Are you ready for some … politics?
With labor troubles looming over the National Football League season and the prospect of a football lockout next spring, two Republican senators have sent letters to the league and the NFL Players Association urging a quick resolution to behind-the-scenes wrangling, CNBC has learned.
The letters appear to be the first time Congress has weighed in on the lockout issue publicly, although members of Congress frequently speak to lobbyists for the NFL and the players association.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) urged the league and its union to conclude negotiations before the end of the season.
And, in a letter dated September 27, Graham offered a bit of a brush back to all the football lobbying he's seen on the Hill:
“As with many issues that should be resolved in private negotiations, both your organizations have been canvassing Capitol Hill seeking support for your position should there be a labor dispute next spring,” Graham wrote. “I encourage you in the strongest possible terms to settle your dispute without congressional involvement."
In a letter dated August 6, Senator George LeMieux (R-FL) argued that the country can’t afford the layoffs that would come with an NFL lockout.
“More than 125,000 support personnel owe their jobs directly to an NFL franchise, and many more businesses and workers are directly or indirectly supported by the League’s economic activity,” LeMieux wrote.
The league’s current five-year contract with players expires in March, and negotiations have stalled over questions of pay and whether to extend the football season to 18 games.
That has television executives and advertisers watching nervously—football remains one of the few programming options that can reliably bring in a mass audience in today’s fractured media environment.
ESPN’s cable broadcast of the Vikings-Jets game on Monday Night Football, for example, garnered 17.3 million viewers, more than almost everything on network television that night.
Members of Congress are usually eager to weigh in on high-profile issues that are on the minds of voters, but the politicians aren’t just grandstanding. Congress has important leverage over the league because it has granted the league anti-trust exemptions in the past—a key to the league’s financial success over the years.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league understands the importance of football to voters and fans.
“We are in regular contact with Members of Congress to keep them appraised of the status of negotiations with the union,” McCarthy said. “We appreciate their interest and let them know that we hard working hard to negotiate a new labor deal that is fair to the players, clubs and fans.”
The Players Association also said it is taking the matter seriously.
"Players recognize that the business of the NFL impacts the businesses of America in a profound way. A lockout puts jobs at risk. We continue to work diligently to prevent a lockout," said NFL Players Association spokesman George Atallah.