Will We Have a 2021 NFL Season?

The NFL’s current collective bargaining agreement is set to expire following the 2020

season. According San Francisco cornerback Richard Sherman, a lockout will come with it.

“It’s going to happen, so it’s not like guys are guessing,” said San Francisco’s player

representative on September 6th about whether he believes there will be a lockout in 2021, per

The Washington Post.

This is nothing new. In July, Todd Gurley told Willie McGinest of the NFL network that

the solution to get guaranteed contracts would be a lockout. In 2017, NFL union players

president Eric Winston said he anticipates a lockout in an interview with Keenan Singleton of

WCPO Cincinnati. Also in 2017 NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told Albert Breer of

Sports Illustrated that a lockout is a “virtual certainty”.

This all makes sense, considering the owners and the players disagree on a lot, from

guaranteed contracts to how to split league revenue and many other things. According to

Sherman, none of their disagreements will be hashed out before the CBA expires.

“We don’t plan on changing anything about the deal that we currently have right now, so

I don’t think it’s going to be negotiated before the end of the CBA,” said Sherman per NBC.

So, with all of that in mind, it seems very likely a lockout will occur. How long it will last is

another question. With how much money is at stake and the state of the league right now, it

seems impossible that any actual games will be missed.

Now the obvious reason owners and players will try to avoid any games getting

cancelled is money. Every lost game is lost revenue for the league and owners, lost economic

opportunities for the area around the stadiums (hotels, restaurants, etc.) and a lost paycheck for

players. The players are the key factor though.

The owners are all well off money wise, but they aren’t the ones who are going to initiate

this lockout like they did in 2011, it’s coming from the players. While some of the top players are

making millions of dollars and are set for life, many players are earning the league minimum

($480,000 for a rookie according to Spotrac) so losing out on game checks is a bigger deal for

them.

The NFLPA is attempting to prepare for this by helping players to save money in order to

stick through a player strike. And yes, if they are successful, it could be very beneficial to these

types of players. They could earn more money and get more of that money guaranteed.

The problem is many of these players don’t have long to earn money in the NFL. The average

NFL career is 3.3 years, according to Statista, with many being shorter than that. This also

means that these players won’t get to see the benefits of their strike for long, if at all.

So how many players will be willing to sacrifice a year, maybe even the last or only year

of their career, for something that might not even affect them?

As was said before, the owners have plenty of money, so loss of revenue won’t be as

big a deal for them. But given the state of the league right now and the way it’s trending, the

owners should do whatever they can to ensure no games are cancelled.

It is no secret that viewership in the NFL is down. And while the NFL still has insanely

high ratings, when you break it down by age group, it does show a downward trend that could

be bad for the league in the future.

Interest in the NFL is down among younger adults and teens. According to Nielson

ratings, not only are the average NFL regular season game ratings among 18-34 year old’s

lower than 34-54 year olds (2,657,000 to 5,050,000 in 2017), but there was a bigger drop off

from 2016 to 2017 (15% for 18-34, 10% for 34-54). In 2014, Statista reported that 43% of

people aged 18-29 followed the NFL very closely, and 43% not closely at all, while. The other

age groups (30-34, 45,64, and 65+) were all above 30% for “follow very closely.” Statista also

found in a 2017 study that only 13% of people ages 18-34 considered the NFL one of their top

interests compared to 21% for ages 35-54 and 15% for 55+.

These statistics follow a general trend among youth for all sports. In an article for the

Sports Business Journal in November of 2016, Rich Luker said, “Twenty years ago 49 of 100

millennials were avid sports fans. Today it is 32 of 100, a loss of nearly one-third of all millennial

avid fans.”

So, league viewership and interest are fine now, but if this trend continues it could be

detrimental for the league. While there are many potential solutions to this issue, I think that one

thing can be agreed upon is that losing a season would not bode well for league interest,

considering there won’t be a product for people to be fans of.

Given the consensus among players and the NFLPA, the NFL appears to be heading for

a lockout in 2021. But given the state of the league among young fans and how short most

players’ careers are, I don’t see there being any games missed in 2021.

Noah Carey

USBC Journal Writer

Class of 2021