Baseball has long been considered America’s national pastime for its historical significance and enduring traditions. However, in regards to popularity and sheer economic power, nothing touches the machine that is the National Football League. The NFL hauled in roughly $9 billion dollars in revenue last season which by far was tops amongst the four major professional sports leagues (NBA, MLB, NHL) in the United States. Currently the league is embroiled in a bitter labor dispute regarding how that revenue should be split between players and owners. If no agreement can be reached then that would equate to no football this season. No football this season would have economic fallout extending beyond that of players and owners and into the local economies of the 32 NFL cities in many different ways -- some obvious and some not quite so.
The various league stadiums employ thousands in jobs such as concessions, retail, parking, and maintenance duties for game days. These jobs do not include regular team employees who may be laid off or see their jobs move to part time status. In a recent report the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) estimates that as many as 115,000 jobs could be lost in local economies due to an extended lockout. The NFLPA figure may skew toward the high side but it is unquestionable that many people stand to be laid off or have their employment cut back in some way.
One area sure to see a slide is the restaurant and hospitality industry. Every NFL Sunday and Monday nights, football fans pack into neighborhood bars and restaurants to watch their teams play. The loss of games would wipe out what is otherwise a nice uptick in sales for these businesses. In addition employees would likely not see the increased hours and tip money that generally accompanies game days. Hotels as well stand to take a hit. A recent article in the Dallas Morning News estimates each Dallas Cowboys’ game is worth approximately 5,000 hotel room nights in the city of Arlington which equates to three to four percent of all room rentals during the year.
Fifteen NFL teams conduct training camps away from their normal practice facilities. The camps are generally held in small towns or at universities and provide a substantial amount of business for the local economy which has grown to rely on the annual event. Even if the league and the NFLPA are able to come to an agreement before the season is scheduled to start, it’s possible, if not likely, that it won’t be in time to work the logistics for off site training camps. The State University of New York at Cortland, where the New York Jets conduct training camp, estimates that 41,000 people were in attendance for the nearly three week event last season. The university further estimates the economic effect of the camp at $5.8 million, with 82 percent of that attributed to spectator spending. Jets spokesman, Bruce Speight, claims that early July is an approximate deadline for a new collective bargaining agreement in order to commit to a Cortland training camp but that there is some leeway depending on developments.
Perhaps the city with the most to lose though is Indianapolis, which is slated to host this season’s Super Bowl. Three years ago, Ball State University conducted a study measuring the economic impact of the Super Bowl on host cities from 1969 to 2005. The study found that the economic boost ranged anywhere from $360 to $450 million. The city has already blocked off 18,000 hotel rooms in anticipation of the two week event next February. Local restaurants have already started to make arrangements for the nearly 150,000 visitors expected to flood Indianapolis.
Clearly more than just football fans are in line to lose with the ongoing labor dispute. Each day it continues adds further doubt to the possibility of the season beginning on time. Yet despite what once looked like two sides far apart there has been encouraging reports in recent days that the league and the union are coming closer to an agreement that could have the season starting as scheduled. They will get back to the negotiating table today and tomorrow in Boston where hopefully further progress can be made and business can continue as usual for all at stake.