During the 2011 lockout, the NFLPA raised eyebrows by currying the favor of unions whose employees make a lot less money than pro athletes. Three years later, the strange bedfellows routine has gone even farther, with the NFL and the AFL-CIO joining forces on a relatively unpopular political issue.
In a letter dated August 26, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka urges the FCC to keep the sports blackout rule in place.
“The current broadcast rules promote full stadiums, which provide jobs and incomes for the working people we are proud to represent, and they promote free over-the-air television, on which many working people rely,” Trumka writes. “We have seen all other sports migrate away from the free over-the-air model and are concerned that eliminating the Sports Blackout Rule may make the NFL leave free over-the-air television as well.”
The good news is that Trumka, unlike the NFL, doesn’t blame the situation on “Pay TV lobbyists” or other bogeymen who would force the hard-working men and women of America to pay for the privilege of watching NFL football. The bad news is that Trumka has decided to perpetuate the disingenuous notion that, if the blackout rule goes away, the NFL will change its broadcasting model to pay-per-view only.
That’ll never happen, for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, the removal of NFL football from free broadcast TV would spark an outrage from the public even bigger than the Ray Rice backlash, resulting in the immediate drafting of legislation that would strip the league of its broadcast antitrust protection. In turn, the league would be forced to allow teams to cut their own TV deals, Notre Dame-style. Some teams would make billions and others would make millions and others may be relegated to local public access. The ensuing competition for dollars and product exposure would make the maximum audience that comes from a broadcast network very attractive to some teams, possibly sparking a bidding war among multiple franchises for the privilege of being the official team of ABC, FOX, CBS, or NBC.
Trumka’s other argument — that full stadiums generate more money for the people who work there — has some merit. But people who choose to stay home at watch the games on TV will also be utilizing goods and services that are provided by working men and women, from beer to food to color TVs to emergency plumbing services, thanks to Uncle John and his chimichanga habit.
It’s a coup for the NFL, which previously found support for the position only when hiring people like Lynn Swann to parrot nonsensical talking points. With the AFL-CIO behind the effort, maybe the league has a chance at preventing or delaying that which seemed inevitable.