Editor's note: The following editorial appeared Tuesday in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Pro football should be riding high after an exciting Super Bowl XLV, but instead, the NFL teams are in the midst of a labor dispute that could lead to an expensive lockout.
Negotiators for the team owners and players' union are said to be far apart on a new contract. If there's no deal by March 4, owners will likely lock out the players and put next season in jeopardy.
It's a fight between billionaires and millionaires. If there is a lockout, the biggest losers will be the fans and the people whose livelihoods depend on Game Day at the stadiums.
Vendors, parking-lot attendants, stadium security personnel, restaurant owners, merchandisers have at least as much riding on this outcome as the parties at the bargaining table. A lockout could cost each NFL city as much as $160 million.
The league's reputation with fans was not improved Sunday by the sorry spectacle of hundreds of ticketholders to the big game being told the seats they had been sold in temporary bleachers were unsafe because they lacked proper guardrails.
About 850 people were moved to comparable or better seats at Cowboys Stadium. An additional 400, who were allowed to watch a live feed inside the stadium, will receive refunds triple their tickets' face value of $800 apiece.
The average NFL team earned about $33 million in profit before taxes in 2009. Forbes calculated that 19 of the 32 clubs are worth more than $1 billion. The Dallas Cowboys led the list in 2009, with an estimated value of $1.8 billion.
Even with the impact of the recession, NFL owners and players have been making plenty of money. Their fight now is over how they should split their pot of gold.
The owners are threatening a lockout unless they get to opt out of their current collective bargaining agreement two years early. They want a new contract that would collectively cut players' pay by $1 billion and extend the regular season.
Players are resisting the longer season, understandably concerned about the increased risk of injury in a sport where the average career is only 3.6 seasons.
In that regard, any new agreement should include a better long-term plan for dealing with the impact of concussions and brain injury. Currently, it takes three years of playing time to qualify a player for five years of post-career health care. Players accept the risks of the game. With what is being learned about the effects of repeated concussions, however, it is reasonable for players to seek an agreement that includes long-term medical care.
Fans typically don't sympathize with owners or players in contract fights. They understand these feuds are mostly about money, and there is plenty to go around, but a lot of it is their money, so they should care.