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NFL free universe

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (L) and Clay Matthews celebrate after the Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-25 in the NFL Super Bowl XLV football game at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

Kai Ryssdal: Christina Aguilera got the lyrics to "The Star-Spangled Banner" wrong. The NFL had to turn away 400 paying customers because some temporary seating areas weren't ready by kickoff. But hey, down on the field, it was a heckuva ballgame. The Packers beat the Steelers last night in what by my count was the eighth pretty good Super Bowl in a row. Early estimates are that it broke last year's television audience record.

Certainly the people who run the numbers in the NFL's business office will be pleased about that. But hold the phone for just a second. Because the league's collective bargaining agreement expires March 3. So are you ready for no NFL football?

Commentator and sportswriter Jon Wertheim imagines what that might look like.


Jon Wertheim: We should start by reflecting on the good that would come in the absence of the NFL. Church attendance would soar. The Carolina Panthers would lose no games. "60 Minutes" would air at its regularly scheduled time.

But some sectors are sure to take a huge hit. For one, a lot of beer will go unconsumed. Bars and restaurants that do a brisk business on Sunday would suffer. So would the banks and, in some cases, cities awaiting debt service on the empty stadiums. Television would absorb an immense hit. The networks dispense billions for the NFL games -- and are the source, in many ways, of this labor kerfuffle in the first place. At a time of diminishing ratings, the NFL is singularly robust programming.

The biggest loser -- pardon the pun -- might be NBC. Many weeks, the Sunday Night NFL was the only show the network had in the top 25.

The $2 billion fantasy football market would be decimated, and that would cascade down. Similarly, the absence of the NFL would be bad for Vegas-to say nothing of the local bookie. It's no coincidence that the country's most popular sport by far is also the most popular gambling sport by far. The Super Bowl alone can generate $100 million in legal wagers. Gambling experts contend that illegal NFL wagers could top $100 billion in a season. No games, no gaming.

The real loser might ultimately be the NFL. Yes, the league is solid economically, but it's on shakier ground culturally. The majority of NFL fans have never played a down of football. It's another reality show -- with big hits, big personalities and great use of cameras. When it's off the air, fans will gravitate elsewhere.


Ryssdal: Jon Wertheim's a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. He's also the co-author of a new book called "Scorecasting: The Hidden Influence Behind How Sports are Played and How Games are Won." Share your thoughts on whatever you like, not just sports.

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