NFL Faces Year Without a Super Bowl

DALLAS ( TheStreet) -- Enjoy this year's Super Bowl hype, throwback match-up between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers and the commercials and Black Eyed Peas halftime show that comes with it. All of it could be gone next year.

Once the confetti falls, the Vince Lombardi Trophy is hoisted and fans in a cold-weather city risk frostbite to line the streets during their team's victory parade, the NFL and its players will get down to the very ugly business of hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement by their March 3 deadline. If that doesn't happen -- and the two sides aren't exactly close on a deal -- next season and Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis are in serious jeopardy.

Think a dark year can't happen? Ask baseball fans who spent October raking leaves when the World Series was scrapped by a strike in 1994 or hockey fans who spent a year without the Stanley Cup when the NHL locked out its players in 2005.

Football teams' lockers could go empty in the upcoming season if the NFL and players can't hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement by March 3. But that emptiness would just symbolize billions in lost revenue.

"The idea of taking the definitive American entertainment event off the schedule would resonate much greater than the cancellation of the Stanley Cup and World Series," says Rick Horrow, sports business analyst and chief executive of Horrow Sports Ventures. "The NFL is now an $8.5 billion to $9 billion-annual-revenue business and if we're talking about canceling a Super Bowl, we're talking about canceling a season as well, so the NFL would stand to lose all of that revenue."

That annual revenue would put the NFL somewhere between Nos. 272 and 260 on the Fortune 500. At the high end, it would outrank eBay ( EBAY) and Nordstrom ( JWN). At the low end, it's still ahead of Cablevision ( CVC), Discover Financial Services ( DFS), Whole Foods ( WFMI), Eastman Kodak ( EK) and Campbell Soup ( CPB).

The league's revenue base is growing, too, as Nielsen says NFL TV viewership is up 8% since last year and 20% since 2008. Research firm IBISWorld says that ratings boost should lift the NFL's revenue 15.3%, to as much as $9.8 billion, after the league renews its contract with Disney's ( DIS) ESPN -- continuing the league's 7.5% growth rate over the past five years.

To advertisers and networks -- the latter of which invested $4 billion in the NFL this season through league contracts with ESPN, NBC ( CMCSA), Fox ( NWS) and CBS ( CBS) -- the league is clearly worth the investment. In the 2009-10 season, ad revenue alone accounted for $2.8 billion, according to Kantar Media. This season, ad revenue is up 15.4% through November and is on pace to top $3.2 million through the Super Bowl; Nielsen says 208 million unique viewers took in the action this year. If a lockout is avoided, Kantar suggests the NFL's growing crowd could cheer on a 10% increase in league ad revenue this year.

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