UPDATE, 10:45 PM: The NFL and its owners have officially locked out the players, marking the league’s first work stoppage since the players went on strike in 1987. Both sides seem so far apart, it’s unclear when they might start talking again. Instead both sides appear headed for a courtroom confrontation. “We are locked out,” union president and former player Kevin Mawae said in a text message to the Associated Press. “We were informed today that players are no longer welcome at team facilities.” Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell posted a letter to NFL fans today after the labor talks ended. Even the spectre of the coming football season being threatened after last year’s huge ratings is enough to give panic attacks to the television moguls.
FRIDAY, 5:30 PM: Looks like NFL fans won’t have to pay up for those recession-unfriendly DirecTV packages next season. Dissolving the union this afternoon after 16 days of negotiations and two extensions to the collective bargaining agreement means individual players can file antitrust lawsuits against the league to prevent an expected lockout by owners. They did, too, with 10 signing on to a class-action suit including star quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. Said the former union: “The NFLPA will move forward as a professional trade association with the mission of supporting the interests and rights of current and former professional football players.” The league, meanwhile, said the players left “a very good deal on the table.”
If the season is shut down, football risks losing the huge ratings momentum it has earned following blowout viewer and demo numbers this past season, including drawing 111 million viewers to the Super Bowl, the biggest audience for a TV show in U.S. history. The huge network money involved was the subject of a lawsuit last week that ended when a judge ruled the league illegally secured $4 billion from TV contracts — money that players argue was earmarked to fund a lockout that now seems imminent.
The current CBA expires tonight at 11:59 ET.