A Year Without Football in 2011? It Could Happen.

The NFL season is only two weeks underway, and although most fans are sweating over third-down conversions, a larger issue looms over the gridiron. Specifically, it looms in the emotionally frigid tunnel of air between the owner's box and the team bench. I'm talking about the potential NFL lockout and a 2011 season without a single NFL game. Even if you're not a die-hard pigskin fan, trust me: You have plenty of reasons to be afraid.

First, a bit of background for those who don't speak fluent football: Negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players' union have sputtered, stalled and, some sportswriters say, failed to ever really begin. The root of the disagreement is, of course, money. Management claims it isn't making enough. As teams build stadiums worthy of ancient Rome with private money, they're seeking a larger part of the revenue pie to recoup expenses. You'd think owners would do anything to avert a year of empty stadiums, but TV contracts would still pay out and without games or stadium upkeep, owners could actually profit from a lock-out. As for players, they also want a bigger stake in both team profits (players get no more than 59 percent of the financial pie) and discipline decisions, where NFL commish Roger Goodell currently plays czar.

If the current agreement is allowed to expire with no new agreement in place, the 2010 season will be played without a salary cap, and the potential for a lockout in 2011 will be close to certain. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Smith both said that a third bargaining session will take place by the end of September, so maybe they'll cut a deal after all. If not, a "lockout" would be exactly as it sounds--shuttered stadiums; zero games; no Fantasy Football; no Super Bowl.

So why should you care? Because besides lacking a Monday morning conversation-starter, the 32 cities that host NFL teams would also lose a sure source of revenue in tough times.

The economic impact of football on a city is debatable, and some economists believe that hosting the Super Bowl isn't as lucrative as the NFL likes to claim. How much would a home city lose if the NFL went without a 2011 season? It's hard to say. Maybe fans would spend the same money in other ways and cities wouldn't really lose anything. But in what areas could a home city lose?

(1) Transportation: City-owned parking garages and lots would see a drop in revenue if tens of thousands of fans don't descend upon home fields every other Sunday. Some cities offer free shuttles to and from games, but some don't. So public transit might see a decline in ridership, which translates to a decline in revenue.

(2) Tourism: Gas stations, airlines, hotels, restaurants... basically any business that might be associated with travel would hurt, especially in cities to which fans of neighboring rivals might travel--Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers; Steelers at Philadelphia Eagles; New England Patriots at New York Giants; Green Bay Packers at, well, nearly any Midwest opponent.

(3) Sales taxes: Many of the tourism-related points could fall here as well. But the biggie is clearly beer. Despite the NFL's effort this season to crackdown on fan tailgating, the alcohol-fueled hoopla surrounding Game Day can mean cash for city coffers, since alcohol is one of the most frequently taxed consumer items.

(4) Citizen income: A 2002 study in the Journal of Sports Economics found that "in the city that is home to the winning team from the Super Bowl, real per capita personal income is found to be higher by about $140." Now, that's not much, and standard correlation-causation disclaimers apply -- but hey, there it is.

Players, owners and fans are focused on the current season, but as the March deadline draws near, I wouldn't be surprised if home cities begin quietly lobbying for an agreement to be reached.