The State Of The NFL

NPR's David Greene talks to Peter King, senior football writer for Sports Illustrated, about the state of the NFL.

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DAVID GREENE, host:

If you're a sports fan, you might know about that dark cloud that's hanging over the NFL season. That would be the upcoming lockout that's a possibility. This NFL season has just gotten underway, but next season, the stadiums could all go dark due to a battle between owners and the players union.

If you're a fan, Sundays, well, you would suddenly have a lot of free time to fill. The issue, as always, is money. And so far, things look pretty bad. Neither side will budge. Both are preparing for the first work stoppage in more than two decades.

And joining us to talk about the looming labor apocalypse is Peter King. He's the senior football writer for Sports Illustrated. Peter, welcome.

Mr. PETER KING (Senior Football Writer, Sports Illustrated): Glad to be here. Thank you.

GREENE: So am I painting too gloomy a picture? How bad do things look going into next year?

Mr. KING: Oh, I dont think you're painting a gloomy enough picture.

GREENE: Wow.

Mr. KING: Because I think the odds are very good that next March, the owners will lock the players out if there is, indeed, still a players union. The union right now is using an old trick that it used in a past labor beef with the owners. And that is they're voting team by team to decertify the union, which means that there literally, by the end of this season, won't be a union for the owners to lock out. And so then that will supposedly force bargaining to accelerate.

I mean, as of right now, the biggest problem is that I dont think there's going to be any true real progress until next summer, because there's no danger of missing any games until then.

GREENE: Give us the league's perspective. I mean, why the threats that they might shut things down next year?

Mr. KING: Well, the league's perspective very simply is that, you know, over the last decade-plus, the owners in this league have bore the brunt of about 21 new stadiums or hugely refurbished stadiums.

What the owners want to do is they basically want a $1 billion credit from the players, to say that in essence we have invested all of this money in these stadiums and you need to help us. You know, we need to take some of the money that we put and we divide between players and owners and give it all to the owners, just because you're benefiting from all these new stadiums, too.

And the players say, hey, in no sport in history has the rank and file had to pay for the stadiums. And we're not about to start doing it.

GREENE: And I know one of the arguments of the players is, you know, maybe we'll talk about this but we dont believe you unless you open the books and show us that you really need this money.

Mr. KING: Right.

GREENE: Why are the teams reluctant to actually just, you know, show them the books and say this is what we're facing?

Mr. KING: I think thats a great question. And I think part of the reason is that some of the owners are hesitant to expose both their personal wealth and to expose how much money they might actually be making, in money that isnt shared with the players.

GREENE: Some of these rich owners who, if things are exposed, the players would say, well, there's some money there you could spend on your own to take care of this problem.

Mr. KING: Absolutely, and because theyve never had to before, and they dont want to set the precedent of opening their books to the players.

GREENE: Let me ask you this, Peter. I mean, both sides are planning for the possibility of a lockout to the dismay of some fans. Dont both sides have to see how angry fans were though in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey league, when those leagues lost a year to labor strife? I mean...

Mr. KING: No question. I mean, look, I think it is beyond absurd that it may come to a lockout, may come to a job action, that some games may be missed, when you consider that so far this year the television ratings are unprecedentedly high. People love this game. And not only that but at a time when the economy in the United States is suffering so much, people need a cheap date.

The NFL is as important - I've covered the NFL for 27 years, it's always been hugely popular - but I think it's as important or more important that it ever has been. And I think, you know, a pox on both their houses if it gets to a job action that curtails the 2011 season.

GREENE: Well, Peter, get your popcorn popping and enjoy the games this weekend.

Mr. KING: Hey, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Peter King, he's the senior football writer for Sports Illustrated.

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