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Sam Kagel, the 73-year-old San Francisco labor mediator imported early last week to try to settle the NFL strike, has a reputation for toughness. Upon joining the parties to the strike at the Hunt Valley Inn in Cockeysville, Md., Kagel said, "My tactic is to wear them out before they wear me out." As SI went to press five days after Kagel made that pronouncement—and with the walkout four weeks old—all sides were showing unmistakable signs of wear. Although there were indications on Sunday that the NFL Players Association was prepared to modify its demand for a wage scale and despite speculation that the management side might make new concessions, the strike dragged on. And Kagel, his hopes for round-the-clock negotiations conducted under cover of a media blackout frustrated by hassles over leaks to the press and other interruptions, complained at one point, "This place is like a prison. I haven't been outside."
In the long run, however, prospects for a settlement may have been helped by the so-called all-star game staged by the players' union on Sunday in Washington. The game, played in 55,045-seat RFK Stadium, drew a crowd announced at "eighty-seven sixty," although one dubious writer, surveying the empty stands, quipped, "That's eighty-seven on one side, sixty on the other." The box-office debacle in the first game of what the NFLPA envisioned as an alternative season was a clear-cut public relations defeat for the union. That the game itself was reasonably well played for an all-star event—an amalgam of NFC East and Central players beat an AFC East contingent 23-22—and the mere fact it took place was, in another sense, a setback for the owners. They had sought to block NFL players from suiting up for such games. Sunday's game and another one scheduled for Los Angeles the next night could establish a precedent that, in the absence of a settlement, would encourage other NFL players to participate in such events in the future. And as the Redskins' John Riggins, who took part in the Washington game, said, "The more people who play in these all-star games of ours, the more the owners will realize that football can be played without them."
The result of the NFLPA-sponsored game: The players realized that starting a new league that will win public acceptance is no easy matter, while the owners couldn't rule out the possibility that such a thing might nonetheless happen. It was hard to imagine two more effective incentives to settle the strike.
NOW FOR A WORD FROM THE STRIKE
Once the NFL strike ends, efforts will naturally be made to recoup as much as possible of the revenue lost because of the walkout. One prospect: an attempt to generate extra income by squeezing more commercials into telecasts of remaining games. Under the terms of the NFL's contract with the networks, 24 minutes of commercials per game are now allowed. If the strike reduces the 16-game regular-season schedule to 13 games—a 13-game schedule is still possible under NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle's plan to make up two canceled games by prolonging the regular season—the resulting loss of advertising could theoretically be made up by adding roughly eight minutes' worth of commercials to the telecast of each remaining game. The result, astonishingly, would be that the strike would end up costing the NFL virtually nothing in TV revenues.
Football fans will be happy to learn, however, that adding eight minutes of commercials per game is easier said than done. For one thing, some NFL TV sponsors couldn't afford to wait out the strike and have already channeled their advertising dollars elsewhere. Another deterrent to selling additional commercials is that these would lead to "advertising clutter," which could make individual commercials less effective. Also, some network officials, sensitive to charges that TV intrudes on sports events too much already, say they would strongly oppose additional time-outs expressly for TV. Instead, any extra commercials would have to be shown during "natural" breaks—for example, injury time-outs—that are normally given over to color commentary. Trouble is, there's no way to know, how many such breaks will occur in a game.
But some extra commercials do seem likely. The fact that the NCAA's new TV deal allows 26 minutes of commercials during college games shows that there's nothing magical about the NFL's 24-minute total. It also suggests that NFL telecasts could easily accommodate a number of additional commercials. The result may well be that by subjecting themselves to extra TV pitches for beer, razor blades and the like, the fans would, in effect, be underwriting the strike. Which is probably what they suspected they'd be doing all along.
OR, IF YOU PREFER, JUST KNOCK
Visitors to the suburban Atlanta home of Braves TV announcer Darrel Chaney are greeted in an unusual manner. Upon ringing the doorbell, they hear a tape recording of the crack of bat against ball followed by the excited voice of Marty Brennaman, the broadcaster for the Cincinnati Reds: "It could be, it might be.... It is! It's a grand slam home run for Chaney! Look at Darrel. Look at Darrel Chaney! He's dancing around the bases...."