TORONTO (Reuters) - Never mind all the talk of a prolonged lockout, organizers of the next Super Bowl are steaming ahead with their plans for 2012.
The National Football League’s (NFL) first work stoppage in 24 years could threaten the Super Bowl, the biggest annual sporting event in North America, but the designated hosts in Indianapolis are undeterred.
“We are determined to not let our planning be affected at all because even if it takes a while eventually we think there will be a deal and we need the time to be ready so it’s full speed ahead,” Mark Miles, chairman of the 2012 Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee, told Reuters in a recent interview.
“Plus, we understand that so long as there is a season, and a season doesn’t necessarily mean the normal length of season, there will be a Super Bowl.”
The uncertainty over the NFL’s 2011 season and the ensuing title game played in 2012 stems from a dispute between the league and the players’ association (NFLPA) over how to split more than $9 billion in revenue.
At stake for the city of Indianapolis, which has not hosted a Super Bowl before, is a potential windfall that some experts believe could reach $400 million.
According to Miles, under a worst-case scenario where the Super Bowl is not played in 2012, Indianapolis would be given the next unawarded championship game, which would be in 2015 after New Orleans in 2013 and New York/New Jersey in 2014.
Labor talks between the NFL and NFLPA broke down nearly two weeks ago after a pair of extensions had given fans hope that a lockout might be avoided.
While the key sticking point is how to split the revenue, other issues include expanding the regular season to 18 games from 16, a rookie wage scale and benefits for retired players.
Unlike the sport’s devoted followers who monitor every twist and turn of the dispute, the planning committee cannot afford to turn its attention from determining how to spend more than $35 million on planning the Super Bowl and related festivities.
“It’s possible in certain litigation scenarios that there could be a Super Bowl and a season even without an agreement,” said Miles. “So we believe it’s incumbent upon us simply to not miss a day in our preparation and to do everything at the same speed that we would have without this issue.”
Miles said the lockout had not taken the committee by surprise since Indianapolis was picked to host the Super Bowl at the same 2008 meeting where the league’s 32 owners opted out of the collective bargaining agreement.
While Indianapolis, and its Lucas Oil Stadium, could be back in line to host a Super Bowl if the 2012 edition is canceled, it would still be years before they were able to enjoy any return on the money being spent to stage the event.
Robert Boland, a sports business professor at New York University’s (NYU) Tisch Center, said the Super Bowl planning committee might start to panic if there was no end in sight to the lockout when the 17-week regular season was scheduled to begin in September.
“They are going to be spending money now with a possibility that the game might, for some reason, not happen and that’s probably the greatest cause of concern,” Boland told Reuters.
“But I don’t think the Labor crisis is so bad that we are going to reach that point. In fact, I think probably sometime in April the judge will probably order the NFL back to work but we never know what the terms are going to be.”
There is no reason to believe the dispute will end soon as the NFLPA renounced its status as a union which can bargain on behalf of its members, a move which allowed players to sue the league under antitrust laws.
Hours later, when the old collective bargaining agreement expired, NFL owners decided to impose a lockout of players that essentially halted all league activities.
Tensions between the sides showed no signs of letting up as each issued letters disputing facts and offering no hint of a return to the bargaining table.
The next key date during the work stoppage is April 6, when a hearing on the players’ request for a preliminary injunction to stop the lockout will take place.
While experts do not expect any resumption of talks ahead of that date, they do seem to feel time is on the side of the Super Bowl planning committee and that cooler heads will prevail between the NFL and players.
“The good news is we are still almost a year away,” said Boland. “The NFL has every reason to get this deal done in part because the sport is profitable and in part because the two sides aren’t so far apart.”
Editing by Clare Fallon; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com