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The NFL Slays The Goose That Laid The Golden Egg

National Football League fans who pay top dollar to follow their favorite sport had better plan on attending drug withdrawal addiction clinics because there may be no season next year.

The 2011 season may be shut down by owners or a players union strike as the current collective bargaining agreement expires sometime after the Super Bowl in February.

I say sometime because union and owners cannot agree on a deadline.

The 32-team NFL is the most popular sports enterprise in the world, drawing an average 67,509 fans per game last season. It may be the most profitable. That is an educated guess. The books are sealed shut by 31 of the teams, the exception being the only public owned entity, the Green Bay Packers.

The NFL has evolved into a rich man’s sport. The cheapest seats in the worst corner of any stadium is on average $40 and the league’s team jerseys are marked up by 100% retail.

Fans view the players as millionaires and the owners as billionaires. So, where’s the beef? One might ask why kill the goose that laid the golden egg?

The answer is the players and owners are fighting over cake knowing full well they have a captive audience willing to pay any price to watch the game.

The only thing free the NFL offers is network television of home games in that team’s market as long as they are sold out 72 hours before kick off. How gracious. Ticket revenue represents only a small fraction of total income for the franchises. It is the image of jammed packed stadiums is what is important to the NFL in selling its product.

No sport is more image conscious than the NFL. Players are fined for not having their jerseys tucked under their hip pads. Numbers assigned players are based on the positions they play.

For a monopoly continually contested for anti-trust violations in court, the NFL smacks a dead ringer of a socialist enterprise because of its revenue sharing and draw of the college draft provisions.

According to Mike Florio, a veteran sportswriter who has covered the NFL, the issue is players holding on to their share of the pie. They already receive 59% of most revenue generated by the violent game they play. In this con game, the owners say a larger share for them is more money for the product they place on the field and in the myriad of market places they pluck from fans’ wallets.

It is much more complicated. The only item owners and players are close is a cap on bonuses and salary for rookies. Not far behind is a universal feeling retired players should be treated more fairly for health and pension benefits.

So why shut down a sport for the first time in two decades over issues that the fans ultimately will pay the price?

The owners want more than the $1 billion off the top before revenue sharing but refuse to open their books for supporting arguments. The players counter that amounts to an 18% pay cut.

Florio suggests what will happen is an impasse in which both sides agree to seek federal arbitration. In that case, the last deal on the table will be regarded by owners as an agreement and the players union can take it or leave it.

That leaves NFL football fans several choices: Watch replacement players masquerade as real NFL competition, play fantasy football games, turn to the colleges and high schools for their fixes or boycott the pros.

The NFL is a drugged mousetrap. Dropping it cold turkey is as easy as stopping smoking, shooting heroin or snorting cocaine.

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