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The 2011 NFL Lockout: A Look Back

When millionaires and billionaires get into a squabble over the division of massively lucrative pie, it’s the fans who inevitably get stuck with a stomach ache. Such was the case with the rancorous 2011 NFL lockout, a 132-day work stoppage that brought the sporting world’s preeminent professional league to a screeching halt.

What Was the 2011 NFL Lockout?

The NFL lockout happened in 2011. It was a work stoppage imposed by the league owners on the players over disagreements with the collective bargaining agreement.

Causes of the 2011 NFL Lockout

At its core, the dispute came down to a battle over dollars and cents between the players’ union and the owners. The NFL’s archaic labor model allowed owners to reap the lion’s share of the roughly $9 billion in annual revenues, despite players effectively representing the product being sold.

The owners pushed for an expansive new revenue sharing model that would have cut the players’ already slimmed-down split even further. They also sought to divert funds from current player payrolls into a pay-for-performance system rewarding stars, while installing a restrictive rookie wage scale.

2011 NFL Lockout Timeline

Public sentiment largely vilified both sides for their greed and disregard for fans, who were forced to stomach a year of depraved drivel like the Lingerie Football League to get their fix.

When the dust settled, the players managed to squeak out a few key concessions:

  • Keeping the regular season at 16 games
  • Just a marginal increase in their revenue split from previous levels
  • Retaining most work rules governing wealthy free agents
  • A salary cap minimum of just over $100 million

However, owners landed their coveted rookie wage scale while expanding commissional powers over disciplinary matters. In effect, a divided battle yielded a divided victory.

Could Another NFL Lockout Happen Soon?

Will this type of destructive lockout happen again with new labor deals looming for both the NFL and NBA in 2023? Sports labor historians believe it’s unlikely barring an unforeseen economic catastrophe.

Both the NFL and NBA command such wanton cultural saturation that a protracted work stoppage could prove devastating to all involved parties. Additionally, the current generation of superstar players often wields immense leverage through max contracts and free agency, making compromise more imperative.

But keep in mind the reality of possible disagreements over revenue sharing in the ever changing landscape of media consumption, players’ health and safety especially with regulations around recent issues like the hip drop tackle, and contentions over contract length and guaranteed money.

Regardless, as long as the big-money sports industrial complex remains fueled by public fervor — and weekly windfall television contracts — these labor squabbles between the ultra-wealthy seem to reoccur perpetually. As the 2027 season approaches, let’ brace ourselves an pray for a smooth negotiating process.