With the recently announced 24-hour extension of the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations between NFL players and owners, and all of the drama surrounding this offseason’s events, I have been trying to remember a time when sports law was such big news. Websites have been created to track updates by the minute, local news channels are explaining the issues, and even President Barack Obama commented on the subject today. I will try to forgive him for saying “for an industry that’s making $9 billion a year in revenue, they can figure out how to divide it up in a sensible way” while our government has allowed us to fall into $14 Trillion worth of debt. Sorry – this is not a political blog, but if he can comment on our business, we can comment on his every once in a while.
So, what is driving this Charlie Sheen-like fascination during this round of negotiations? Afterall, labor disputes have become commonplace in the world of professional sports. You only have to look back three years to find the latest occurrence in the NFL, and does anybody remember the replacement players? I do think the NFL’s dominance in American sports is playing a role in the attention these negations are garnering, but I think the real credit goes to Twitter and other social media now being used by fans.
Social media, as good as it has been as a tool for teams to connect with fans, has opened a can of worms for the NFL in some ways that only benefit the fans. Since the NFL owners opted out of the CBA in 2008, Twitter has grown from 100 million tweets per quarter to 65 million tweets per day (data as of June 2010)! Fans now have instant access to every sports commentator’s, player’s, and yes, President’s, thoughts on the topic. This translates to an unprecedented level of access for the fans, who get to see (and share) the NFL for what it is – good and bad.
This gives the fans a voice that the NFL should not take lightly. We are more informed and more opinionated than ever, and the bottom line is, we are ultimately what makes the NFL ship rise. In years past, strikes and lockouts have come and gone with the fans left to forgive leagues and players based on limited information. We are now in an age where fans share opinions instantaneously, even with perfect strangers. I believe that if an agreement cannot be reached between players and owners this time around, and especially if games are eventually cancelled, the league will be met with a unique dissention which may just be powerful enough to bring the NFL back down to earth.
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