Sophocles once said that without labor, nothing prospers. This is true of all industries, but especially important to remember in professional sports. While the players are the face and backbone of organizations, and the owners and management function as the brains, we must not forget that it is the fans who serve the heart of teams. So many aspects of a professional franchises success depend on fan support and when leagues are unable to reach labor agreements, it is the heart of organizations that suffer the most.
Teams owe it to the fans to keep the hostility to a minimum when negotiating new collective bargaining agreements. Strikes and lockouts are economic disasters waiting to happen for both labor and management and it all depends on loss of fan support.
Disaster lurks on the horizon for three of the Big Four (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) leagues in 2011, as each league has expiring collective bargaining agreements on the table. While the NHL has come to an agreement with its Players Association, the threat of work stoppage (via strike or lockout) is very real for the NBA, NFL and MLB and their respective fans. Yes, it is a disaster for the fans first but professional organizations and athletes will feel the hit where it seems to matter most, their pockets. The “show me the money” attitude that is so prevalent among players and owners alike has made it so that labor negotiations are hostile and downright petty. Lockouts and strikes not only cause a loss of trust from loyal fans but also are a major economic loss.
The owners lose revenue from gate receipts, and loss of fan support means loss of revenue from licensing and merchandising, media contracts, and sponsorships, the four main revenue streams of professional sports.
With loss of the four main sources of revenue, forcing or allowing lockouts makes no economic sense. Loss of fan support will also diminish any leverage teams may have established with our host cities. Lobbying for new arenas and stadia will be a pain if there are no fans and no revenue.
The same can be said for the players. With no games, they aren’t as visible, making it less likely that they will be able to hold onto endorsements so it makes no sense for them to force or allow work stoppages. Fans that would purchase tickets, jerseys, shoes and other products with player’s names and faces attached will grow bitter and thus less likely to offer the support that is essential to player endorsements and even salaries.
No one wins in a work stoppage. Leagues have to realize that it’s the fans that are the very foundation, the very heart of our industry. Time to move towards showing the fans the very same loyalty that they have shown franchises.