NFL lockout could send economic, emotional ripples throughout area

From Ravens players to fans to business owners, many would feel the pain of weekends without football

March 12, 2011|Childs Walker, The Baltimore Sun

Dave Rather can't help but fret that his patio will be empty come the second Sunday in September.

The day should be one of the most festive and lucrative of the year at Mother's Federal Hill Grille, a time for eight months of anticipation to pay off in a purple-tinged celebration of beer, cheer and most importantly, football.

But now that the NFL players union has decertified and the owners have locked the players out, Rather — like millions of fans and interested business owners nationwide — is contemplating a fall without football. A season-long labor stoppage could cost his business $500,000 in revenues, cause him to hire fewer waiters and deprive longtime employees of their best tip days of the year. It might hurt Rather even more as a fan. He has hardly missed a game since the Ravens came to Baltimore and has raised his kids on the team.

"More important than the financial aspect, the Ravens are just a huge part of my life," he said. "They're part of our social fabric, something everybody can get behind. Poor or rich, black or white, everybody loves the Ravens."

Rather is one of countless Marylanders whose years could be upset by a prolonged NFL work stoppage.

The first to feel the effects would be those most closely involved with the game. Players would lose millions of dollars in salary, free agents would be unable to search for new homes, draft picks would be unsure whether to sign contracts and injured veterans would be forced to seek treatment from their own physicians rather than team doctors. On the other side, coaches and general managers would be unable to construct their 2011 rosters or teach new plays at off-season camps.

Come July, the pain would begin to spread, first to Westminster, where fans flood the streets of the small city for training camp. In September, the ripples would reach Baltimore, where downtown bar owners depend on purple-clad patrons for lucrative Sundays and thousands of vendors earn extra income by working in and around M&T Bank Stadium.

A 2007 study ordered by the Maryland Stadium Authority found that the Ravens pay $16.5 million to the state in sales and income taxes, support 400 jobs worth $300 million in wages and account for $69 million in sales at local businesses.

"I think the direct impact would be substantial but fairly concentrated to advertisers, retailers and merchants located near the stadium," said Anirban Basu, chairman of the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group. "It would not be enough to throw the city back into recession, but it would be meaningfully felt."

The sense of loss would go deeper than dollars and cents. The Ravens are perhaps the greatest cultural touchstone for the Baltimore area. Irrespective of race or creed, thousands of people plan everything from their Friday wardrobes to their Sunday dinners around games. The NFL has become a secular church and its adherents would feel spiritually bereft in its absence.

"What would I do?" said Jeff Schwartz, an Owings Mills resident who attends every home game and several road games a year. "It would be kind of like if somebody took away Christmas."

Most of the pain could be averted if the sides come to an agreement in the next few months. The current standoff has an abstract quality. Fans have not truly begun to agonize, because the prospect of losing real games, which hasn't happened in the NFL since 1987, is six months away. It seems impossible to many that a corporation generating $9 billion a year could simply halt operations.

For those who have not followed the labor dispute, it's important to understand that issues such as an expanded 18-game schedule and a new wage scale for rookies amount to interesting distractions. The owners and players are really fighting about how to divide that $9 billion pie. Owners want to take $1.5 billion off the top, a significant increase over what they received under the old deal, for expenses such as stadium construction and renovation. Players say that, as the talent that makes the enterprise run, they deserve to keep their share.

The union asked the owners to open their books and explain why they need a larger cut, but never received the documents they wanted. Now the matter will likely be settled in court rooms — several players have already filed antitrust lawsuits — and it appears the fate of the season won't be known until later in the summer at the earliest.

The player

Ravens receiver Derrick Mason isn't shy about voicing his opinion, whether he's talking politics, music or how often the Ravens should be throwing him the ball. Of late, the Ravens' union representative has turned his sharp tongue to the anxieties flowing from labor strife

He has spent weeks reminding fellow union members to sign up for COBRA health insurance, in case a lockout costs them benefits.

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