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An extended NFL lockout hurts more than players and owners; bad PR is just part of the fallout

For anyone who follows the National Football League, it’s no secret that the relationship between owners and players is contentious as ever. A breakdown in mediation resulted in the National Football Players Association decertifying and a day later, owners locked out the players. Now the arguments, often expressed via social media, are sounding more like a clique of high school girls blaming each other for stealing boyfriends than grown adults who work with the most successful sports product in the United States. To read fan reaction is to realize that each side’s public relations efforts are already crumbling and falling on deaf ears.

While the 2011 season is months away from its scheduled kickoff, there are thousands of people who are worried about what an extended labor stoppage would mean for them. Some teams have reportedly made plans for people in their front office should activities not return to normal in short order. But aside from team personnel, assistant coaches, trainers and equipment managers, there are others who would be detrimentally effected by a shortened or non-existent season.

Consider everybody you meet on game day, from the person who directs traffic near the stadium, ticket collectors, food and merchandise vendors and even the custodial staff that cleans the facility after you leave. And it goes beyond that: retailers in stadium neighborhoods, hoteliers, restauranteurs, grocery stores that conduct and generate revenue from seasonal weekly game promotions and so on. That’s just in your favorite team’s community.

Expand to the sports industry and now we’re talking about media and support personnel who miss their weekly assignments because there are no games to cover. There are advertising agencies who enjoy lucrative deals to promote each week’s contest and excite communities about the season.

Yes, the NFL is much more than a game. It’s a billion dollar industry with thousands that depend on it to feed their families and pay the electric bills. Resolving the collective bargaining agreement means more than paying player salaries or sharing revenue among owners of million dollar properties.

Oh, and then there are fans, thousands who pack stadiums each week and despite escalating costs to sit in their seats, have supported the league in record numbers. To the players and owners: honor this valuable support group and those whose work depends on your product. Ditch the dissension and negotiate in good faith. Stop the blame game; fans will take their discretionary dollars elsewhere if they think the labor agreement is equal to grown men fighting in the media. They will tune you out faster than a parent tired of the big purple monster.

Litigation is on the docket, and we can only hope each side uses the opportunity to hammer out differences and sprint back to their jobs. There are a lot of people counting on it.

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