All Locked Up: The History of Labor Disputes in Sports



Football fans know all about the recent 2012 NFL referee lockout, a labor dispute between the National Football League and the NFL Referees Association. Effectively making ‘Game Over’ a theme for football fans for much longer than they liked.

pleeing referee

Both sides failed to agree on a collective bargaining agreement, so replacement officials were used for three weeks at the start of the 2012 season. An eight-year agreement that defined compensation and benefits was reached on September 26, ending the referee lockout.

Worst Labor Disputes in Sports

Some Americans were disgusted at the thought of football referees earning nearly $200,000 per year—come on, how hard of a job is it?!—but labor disputes in the NFL are fairly uncommon. Until the recent ref lockout, though, the National Football League hadn’t had a strike since 1987. If you’re a true sports fanatic who loves baseball, basketball, and hockey as much as football, you can probably also remember (or at least heard about) these other breaking news events:NFL Lockout: September 20—November 16, 1982

Can’t imagine life without Monday Night Football? If you were around back in 1982, nearly half of the entire NFL season was football-less. Players had a laundry list of demands, including revenue shares of TV rights and free agency for players for had been in the NFL for three years. The NFL eventually agreed to increase the league’s minimum wage and coughed up $60 million to the player’s union to break the locks on this nasty strike.

NHL Lockout: September 16, 2004—July 19, 2005

The 2004-2005 hockey season was the first time in American history that a labor dispute in sports caused a league to cancel an entire season. There must have been quite an increase in attendance at youth games, because National Hockey League fans weren’t able to see the puck in action between their favorite pro teams all year long. Players and the NHL were clashing over salaries and the entire season was canceled because both sides refused to budge.

NBA Lockout: July 1, 1998—January 20, 1999

Want to feel like you just robbed a bank? Perfect your hoops techniques and break into basketball! Pro player salaries had been on the rise for decades and by 1997, superstar Michael Jordan was raking in a cool $30 million per year. The NBA said “Enough’s enough!” and sought salary caps to keep things from getting worse. As you can imagine, the players disagreed. But the first time a sports lockout actually went in management’s favor, players eventually agreed to maximum salaries that were a percentage of each team’s annual revenue. A few million per year is better than nothing, right?

MLB Lockout: August 12, 1994—April 2, 1995

The World Series was canceled for the first time since 1904 thanks to the 1995 baseball strike, which lasted a seemingly endless 232 days. Major League Baseball team owners wanted to cap player salaries, but wound up losing the battle when players went back to the field under their old big-dollar contracts. Not only was plenty of money lost due to game attendance, a lot of fan loyalty was broken, as well.



Meg Jones works with Phoenix Lock Master in AZ. She enjoys writing about the Suns, the Rattlers and Diamondbacks, the Coyotes, and of course, the Mercury – because Arizona is hot.

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