With each passing day that the top-secret meetings between NFL players and owners don’t fall apart, optimism grows that a new collective bargaining agreement can be reached in time to save all of the regular season — if not in the words (or lack thereof) being spoken by either side then by the actions of franchises around the league.
Two more teams — the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers as well as the perennially powerful New England Patriots — announced plans this week to put single-game tickets on sale. The Steelers will begin selling those ducats Saturday, June 25 while the Patriots will do so on Friday, July 15. The Miami Dolphins also began offering partial, four-game season ticket packages Tuesday, June 7.
In addition, there is growing hope the two sides might be able to salvage all of training camp and the preseason as well. Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported Wednesday, June 8 that the deadline for the players and owners to come to an agreement in time to play a full training camp and preseason is July 15. An NFL source told Breer the two sides would need four to six weeks of negotiating to get a deal done — July 15 is five weeks from today, Friday, June 10 — while a source with the players’ union told Breer there’s 30 days to work things out.
Of course, the NFL and its teams still have to plan as if there won’t be a full season, or even anything close to a full season. The Sports Business Journal reported this week that the NFL is considering playing an eight-game regular season (followed by a full slate of playoff games leading to the Super Bowl) schedule if the lockout drags deep into the fall. NBC Sunday Night Football analyst Cris Collinsworth wrote on his blog last month that he expects up to half the season to be lost to the lockout.
Fans appear to be taking a wait-and-see mode when it comes to buying tickets for 2011. Reports from earlier in the month that season ticket sales were up were premature, according to the Sports Business Journal, which said this week that season ticket sales for 2011 were no longer ahead of or close to the pace set last year but falling far behind. NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Journal that the figures through May 31 had dropped dramatically and that the renewals of club seats and suites “…have slowed to a crawl.”