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NFL Labor Talks: Two Sides Ignoring 100 Million Voices

We knew it was coming. The NFL and the players' union have been making moves, both public and private, in anticipation of a labor dispute. Their current Collective Bargaining Agreement will expire on March 3. The owners are threatening a lockout. The NFLPA has voted to decertify; this is a move that allows them a more advantageous position in litigation.

Of course at the same time, both parties have publicly stated they don't want a work stoppage to shorten or cancel the 2011 season. And at least for now, the parties very much care what you think.

The NFLPA will hold a press conference this week in Dallas where the Super Bowl will be played. This is an annual part of Super Bowl week, however, this year's 'state of the players union' promises to be anything but routine. NFL Commisioner Roger Goodell and union executive director DeMaurice Smith met Monday to negotiate a schedule for the parties to meet before the March 3 deadline. They agreed to a meeting between both negotiating teams to take place Saturday, one day before the Super Bowl. This is a very public relations oriented decision, as the Super Bowl is one of the most widely covered sporting events in the world. At least 100 million of us will watch the game Sunday.

While both the NFL and the NFLPA will be trying desperately to win the hearts and minds of the league's considerable fan base, we the fans would do well to remember one thing: there are three groups who are affected by this dispute, not merely two. There are three sides to this negotiation, the NFL owners on one side of the room, the players and their union on the other side of the room...

And the fans, the source of all their income, on the outside of the room. As the consumers of this product, we alone have a legitimate grievance in the event of a work stoppage. Both the league and its players, along with the usual host of lawyers and other behind-the-scenes pencil pushers, have become inordinately wealthy from our loyalty to their product.

And no matter how these negotiations play out, their incomes will still allow them all lifestyles more opulent than most humans could ever imagine.

Our reward will almost certainly be higher ticket prices, increases in the price of merchandise and concessions, and more commercial breaks per game. The real issue isn't whether players are demanding too much money from owners, or whether owners are hoarding all the revenues for themselves.

The real issue is how deep OUR pockets are, and how much more we can be asked to provide the NFL for goods and services. Of course, it's in their best interests to settle this and keep the golden goose happy. Financially at least, they're the ones who suffer the most in the event of lockout.

But if the NFL and its players, and all their lawyers and paid negotiators were really working in the best interests of their enterprise, they'd be trying to think of ways to give something back to you and me -- the people who buy the licensed clothing, the 'personal seat licenses', the 'NFL Red Zone' and $12 beers.

It's a tough economy, and everybody is feeling the pinch. Well, not everybody. The average value of an NFL franchise is one billion dollars. In 2009, the average player salary was $770,000. Both of those numbers are expected to rise.

One of the points of contention in the labor dispute is the number of games played in a season. The owners want to increase the number to eighteen from sixteen. They expect the players to endure the rigors of two more games, perhaps shortening the number of years they're healthy enough to play. They expect us to fill the stadiums, buy the nachos, pay the parking, or watch the beer and pick-up truck commercials. In other words, they'd like us to provide the revenue.

We also provide the revenue that owners use to gamble on high salaries for top draft picks. Because we don't have any say in their accounting procedures, ownership routinely throws multimillion dollar contracts at very young men, who may or may not ever contribute to the success of their respective teams.

The point is that both the players union and the league have already begun posturing to appear as the party most sympathetic to the desires of the fans. And, ironically, they will spend millions doing so. The NFLPA has produced a commercial called 'Let Them Play'. They tried to purchase premium advertising time from CBS. But CBS has refused to air it, because of course their financial interests are interwoven with the league's. Since you won't see it on CBS's air, watch it here:

in this one small salvo, how much money have both sides spent? However much it is, it's money we gave them. They've asked us to buy (and buy, and buy, and buy) into their sport, and their league. We've done so, at varying levels of financial commitment, happily and without asking for receipts.

In our country today, our leaders are cutting benefits for our soldiers. They're asking us to work longer before retiring, and to tighten our belts in 100 different ways. Americans are resilient people, we'll do what we need to do, and we'll get by. We rely on entertainments like the NFL to take our minds off of our problems. They're mostly harmless little escapes, something to feel good about.

If the two parties do allow a work stoppage, I hope they understand that they're putting our loyalties at risk. While we, as a society are tightening our belts, they're both looking for a way to get a bigger piece of the pie we provide. What are they offering us in return?

SB Nation Chicago will provide continued coverage of the NFL labor negotiations. Please check back here for updates.