The NFL public relations machine has set up a year-long sport.
Once, the season ran from September through December, with championship games in January. The draft was in February, and then everybody took a vacation until training camp in July.
Now, there’s a seamless run. The Super Bowl is played in February. Then, the draft combine is held in Indianapolis.
The draft is in April, followed by a string of minicamps and OTAs (organized team activities), almost up to the day training camps start. Meanwhile, there is endless speculation about free agents.
But not this year. The owners voted to opt out of the collective bargaining agreement that brought in $9 billion in revenues last year. As someone who debates between grocery items priced at $11.99 and $13.01, I can’t wrap my head around that number — or any reason that it isn’t enough.
And make no mistake, it is the owners who have brought this on. The players were satisfied with the old contract.
Why would they do this when it seemed they’ve had such a good thing going? Because they can. Football is so much a part of the social fabric of this country that it’s bulletproof.
That’s not true of other sports. Baseball almost committed suicide with the incredibly stupid act of stopping play in September and wiping out the World Series. It wasn’t until four years later, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa both broke Roger Maris’ season home-run record, that baseball revived.
If the NBA goes out on strike after this season, it would be a serious mistake. I’d guess that many NBA fans will go to college games instead, and when the strike is settled, some of them won’t return.
That’s not true at all of NFL games. If the lockout lasts four games, say, the fans will just go back to the games.
Many will resume with their fantasy football teams. Others will put together tailgate parties for home games and parties at home with friends watching away games on television.
For many, many people, pro football is not just a sport. It’s an obsession. Owners know this, and they’ll take full advantage of it.
There’s no question who has the leverage in this battle. As Monte Poole noted when we were both guests on a Comcast SportsNet show on Friday night, the owners aren’t rich, they’re wealthy. With the exception of the community-owned Green Bay Packers, who will take some economic hits, they won’t even feel it if the money isn’t coming in.
There are two types of wealthy people. One type uses its wealth to benefit others. Bill Gates, for instance. In the Bay Area, the Haas family for generations has made many contributions to groups that need money, including Cal athletics.
Then, there are the wealthy who think nothing is ever enough. They’re the ones who want special tax breaks.
My guess is that most of the NFL owners are in the second group. They’ll hold firm until the players buckle — or until they get adverse rulings from the NLRB and/or the courts.
So, enjoy next month’s draft. It could be the closest you’ll come to pro football for many months.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.