Indianapolis Suped-up but nervous about possible NFL lockout

Posted: March 01, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday at midnight, it's very possible there will be a "closed" sign hanging in the window of the National Football League.

How long it stays there is anybody's guess. Could be a month. Could be 6 months. Could be a lot, lot longer.

It's the lot-lot-longer possibility that's got many people in this city a tad nervous right now. You see, a little less than a year from now, Super Bowl XLVI is scheduled to be played at Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Colts, where the NFL is in the final day of its annual predraft scouting combine.

Could this ludicrous battle over how to split $9 billion in annual revenue really drag on long enough to allow the collective bargaining agreement to expire and force the cancellation of the 2011 season, including the Super Bowl next February? Still seems hard to believe. Then again, so did the possibility of a lockout not all that long ago, and well, here we are.

Over the last 35 years, there have been a total of 14 work stoppages in America's four major professional sports leagues. But only two of them resulted in a championship game not being played. In 1994, a players strike in baseball wiped out the final 7 weeks of the regular season as well as the playoffs and World Series. The National Hockey League canceled the entire 2004-05 season because of a labor dispute.

The NFL hasn't had a work stoppage since 1987. The players struck for 24 days that year, but the owners used replacement players and only one game was missed. A 57-day strike in '82 resulted in a nine-game season, but the Super Bowl was played as scheduled.

"Honestly, I don't stay up at night and worry about it," said Allison Melangton, who is the president and CEO of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee. "Interestingly, I am sort of a worrying person. But I decided a year ago that I certainly don't have any influence on this situation.

"We've spent a lot of time with the NFL on it. And I feel confident it's going to get worked out. We haven't changed anything in our planning to date and we don't intend to."

Super Bowl XLVI is scheduled for Feb. 5, 2012. The league also has asked the city to leave open a second date, Feb. 12. Theoretically, that would allow the league to push back the Super Bowl a week and make up as many as two games that might be lost due to a work stoppage. (There's a bye week after the conference championship games that could be eliminated.)

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the next three Super Bowl hosts - Indianapolis, New Orleans and New York - were asked to hold multiple dates "in case an agreement was reached to change the season structure." He's referring to the owners' desire to expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.

The owners have made no promises to Indianapolis in the event Super Bowl XLVI gets deep-sixed. With the next two already taken, the earliest Indy could be awarded another one is 2015.

"We haven't had that discussion with the NFL," Melangton said. "But they've been great partners in the 5 years I've been working with them, and I know that we will be treated fairly."

Indianapolis has been preparing for the Super Bowl since the day it was awarded to the city in 2008. In the last 3 years, more than $3 billion has been spent in new public and private projects, including Lucas Oil Stadium, a new airport and a 1,005-room J.W. Marriott hotel that will serve as the media headquarters for Super Bowl XLVI. They are making $10 million in improvements to a three-block area downtown that will serve as an outdoor Super Bowl village for fans similar to the Olympic village.

"The town is Super Bowl crazy," Melangton said. "We have such enthusiasm and excitement for the Super Bowl."

Not everyone in the city is as optimistic as Melangton that the labor situation will be resolved in time to save the season and the Super Bowl. Milt Thompson, a former NFL agent who is CEO of Grand Slam Licensing, an Indianapolis sports marketing firm, said he has been concerned for some time that the '12 season and the Indy Super Bowl are in jeopardy.

"From a fan's perspective and a former agent's perspective and someone who's been involved in the business of sports and sports law, I'm very concerned," he said. "Having been an agent, I have a different kind of insight into the division [between the owners and players] and how systemic and deep it happens to be. NFL management is absolutely dead set on changing the business model."

If there is a 2012 season, Thompson expects it to be a shortened one.

"If they have a season at all, will it be abbreviated?" he said. "If they don't get to training camp until mid- to late-August, it will have to be. They might only play 10 games. You'd still have a Super Bowl, but how much value is there in an asterisk season?"

Considering the financial investment the city of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana have made in Super Bowl XLVI, the NFL almost certainly could expect to be sued if the Super Bowl is canceled.

"From a legal standpoint, [if it's canceled], who is responsible?" Thompson said. "You can get the state legislature to go and let them know the amount of economic damage it would cost. And that once there is a [labor] deal, some of that [revenue] should be used to reimburse the city of Indianapolis somehow. But big-market clubs that carry all the weight in the league don't care what happens here."

Send e-mail to pdomo@aol.com

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