Home Political mores The No Fun League Becomes The No Financials League

The No Fun League Becomes The No Financials League

I had forgotten that Arlen Specter stopped being a senator this past year. OK, he didn’t ‘stop,’ he got dumped from the Senate after throwing up the political equivalent of a hail-Mary pass while down by six late in the fourth quarter when he switched parties (from R to D). Thus, when the Times ran his op-ed on June 18 they refrained from describing him as Arlen Specter, a Republican and later (briefly) Democratic senator from Pennsylvania and had to go with the more vague Arlen Specter, a senator from Pennsylvania—which we appreciated from the Times, because the polite omission was sort of funny.

The op-ed had nothing to do with Specter’s career, his commitment to moderation, conciliation, and plain old legislating during 30 years in the Senate, but instead focused on that most pressing issue in American life today: will there be football this fall? The easy answer is yes. College football will be there, with 120 Division 1 schools filling the void as best they can (there are almost as many Division 1-AA schools fielding teams as well, if you care, which you probably don’t because who follows any of those teams?). But if watching classic college rivalries on Saturdays such as Michigan/Ohio State (or classic rivalries featuring less athletic kids such as Harvard/Yale) leaves you praying for Sunday to arrive so you can watch pros annihilating each other as only extraordinarily fast, strong, and large men can (did we mention the steroids? Because those help with the annihilation thing, too), then you need the NFL to be there. And at the moment, as you know whether you’re a football fan or not (the story has led cable and network news reports and been on all the front pages), the players have been locked out by the owners.

Which brings us back to former [insert party affiliation here] Senator Specter, who wrote “How to End the N.F.L. Deadlock” for the Times. As a former Senator, Specter wants Congress to intercede and force a resolution—which is within its powers, as the NFL enjoys an antitrust exemption (just like baseball does) that gives it monopolistic power over the business of the sport. But it is the basic premise of Specter’s argument—a financial premise—that is striking:

Cancellation of the 2011 National Football League season — a possibility that looms over the players’ strike and the owners’ lockout — would not only disappoint the sport’s many fans and disrupt the social rituals (tailgating, Super Bowl parties) that surround the game; it would also have serious economic consequences. Edgeworth Economics, a consulting firm, studied the cost of a canceled 2011 season (at the request of the players association) and estimated it to be about $5 billion from lost jobs, decreased spending at local businesses and reduced tax revenue. In addition, billions of dollars in TV revenue and millions of dollars in ticket sales would vanish.

While no NFL games would certainly hurt certain businesses, the idea that $5 billion in consumers’ discretionary spending would simply vanish from the economy is hard to believe. Americans are good at entertaining themselves—during the Great Depression, for example, movie attendance and revenues surged—and if we can’t buy $150 seats to football games and $8 hot dogs I’m pretty sure we’ll figure out other ways to occupy ourselves, while spending money in the process.

Did the study Specter cites consider the Mets, for example? By the time the season would start (Sunday, September 11—uh oh, that’s ominous) they’ll likely be struggling to stay relevant, and think about how not having the Jets or Giants around could help with attendance at Citi Field. Perhaps the mantra should be, ‘Save the Mets, cancel the NFL season.’ It also seems a sure bet that the NBA and NHL, which both start playing in the fall, would benefit as well. And what about all the negative consequences an NFL season brings? How many people die each year from eating too much bratwurst at Green Bay Packers games? (A lot, would be our guess.) How many women could be spared sexual humiliation on the stadium ramps at Jets games? (Also a lot.) And think of the poor players who collect concussions the way Newt Gingrich collects ex-wives—some of them seem to get concussed every week. Cancel the season for the players! It’s dangerous out there.

Regardless of questionable financial studies and Congressional intervention, though, there will be an NFL season because there is just too much financial incentive for the interested parties (I don’t mean the fans) not to reach an agreement. The owners refuse to open their books to the players (NFL=No Financials League?), but it’s something like a $9 billion dollar pie the owners and players are fighting over, and even those two groups will eventually figure out that each side getting some of the money is better than both sides getting none of it. Years ago, when the league started cracking down on things like end zone celebrations, people started calling the NFL the No Fun League. But it must be some fun, because football has continued to gain popularity, and in at least one way Arlen Specter was absolutely right—there is a lot of money to be made, and that is what will force a solution.

RUFUS DAVIS

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