NEW YORK, N.Y. - As lawyers for NFL players and owners spend the weekend trying to put the lockout to rest, many fans wonder when pro football will return. And when it does, just how ragged will the pre-season look?
So ragged that the league and its 32 teams are considering ways to placate fans once a labour agreement is completed.
The Broncos said Saturday they plan to open Invesco Field for practice on Aug. 6. Vikings spokesman Jeff Anderson said the team is "considering a variety of ideas."
The Hall of Fame game on Aug. 7 is already a casualty. Now, the hall will hold its annual pregame tailgate party and have Hall of Famers on hand for a meet and greet. That is one of 18 hall events scheduled for the weekend, including the Aug. 6 inductions.
"To be frank, there's isn't much you can do other than to do what we have, which is offer full refunds," Hall of Fame vice-president Joe Horrigan said. "The schedule of events is so full, there's no reason to add another event. There's no opportunity to use the stadium for any other thing."
The players have yet to schedule a vote on an owner-approved proposal that would put the league back in business. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spoke Saturday, and Smith has been directly involved in work on the legal language of the proposal.
Exhibition games rarely feature star players for more than cameo appearances. Now, with no off-season training at team facilities, no minicamps and perhaps delayed camp openings, the big names could be on the bench until ... September.
That would make many pre-season games more like scrimmages, although they would provide increased opportunities for rookies and fringe players. The Bradys and Polamalus and Urlachers of the league might not see the field until the fourth and final exhibition, games the regulars usually skip.
"It would be smart of the league and the players to do something special for the fans for the first pre-season game or two, at least one serving each team's home fans," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based sports business consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd. "That could be free or discounted concessions or merchandise, free parking, photo and autograph opportunities with players — especially those who will not be dressing for the game — and other fan friendly marketing and interaction."
There's also enhanced concern about injuries. Few players are likely to be close to football shape when they report — whenever that is.
"The lack of off-season will seriously affect those that have not prepared on their own or at a facility," said Brian Martin, CEO of TEST Sports Clubs in Florida and New Jersey, places where dozens of NFL players train. "Based on working with over 60 active NFL guys, I believe it is roughly 50-50 with those that are workers and those who are not. Many rely on natural gifts and they will be affected with the lack of mandatory conditioning."
Trainers and coaching staffs, therefore, will have to keep a sharp eye on which players were diligent about working out during the lockout and which ones were not. If any top players arrive out of shape, pushing them to get ready in such short time — the first full weekend of preseason games is less than three weeks away — would be problematic.
"The most common injuries will be pulled muscles, hamstrings and groins primarily, due to lack of preparation," Martin said. "Players need to lengthen and strengthen muscles in the off-season to be ready for the rigours of the NFL."
The concerns about physical health are mirrored by concerns of financial health. The deeper the lockout goes, the more costly it will become for both sides — serious financial losses that will shrink the overall revenue pie.
If the Hall of Fame game is the lone game victimized by the labour dispute, NBC would be entitled to a refund for not having that game to televise. That could come in the form of money or credit going into the next rights fees contract with the NFL. Or the league could give the network an extra game or some additional programming.
If the networks (and local affiliates for non-nationally televised games) lose a full week of preseason matchups, the monetary hit rises exponentially.
"The losses for each pre-season weekend (cancelled) will be over US$200 million," Ganis estimated, "or roughly $35 million per day.
"Because of the way the NFL season progresses over the calendar, problems become magnified if they haven't started playing by the middle of August, and are magnified many times more if they aren't playing by Labor Day. Back-to-school shopping and promotions and advertising tied to the NFL are lost and ... it could cause major advertisers to have doubts about the all-important holiday season and divert advertising money elsewhere, potentially starting a 'run on the bank' as advertisers scramble to not get shut out.
"It could get ugly."