Roger Goodell fears fan backlash if no deal with NFL players

By Simon Evans

DALLAS (Reuters) - NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league could face a backlash from fans if they do not reach an agreement with the players' union and prevent a lockout next season.

The current deal, or Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), runs out on March 3, with the risk of a lockout looming large if the NFL fails to strike a deal with the players' union over pay and conditions.

The NFL is the most popular professional sport in the U.S. but Goodell said that would not prevent fans from turning against the game if there was industrial action. Fans of baseball and ice hockey reacted similarly when their sports were canceled because of disputes.

"No, I do not think we are immune to that," Goodell told a news conference on Friday.

"I have said repeatedly that the fans want football and if we are not successful in reaching an agreement that (backlash) will be toward the commissioner, toward the clubs, toward the players, toward everyone involved.

"That is why I think collectively we have to work make an agreement and get something done that makes sense," he said.

Goodell would not comment on the likelihood of a lockout, saying only that the NFL's focus was to resolve the dispute.

"We are not making any determinations on what will happen on March 4. The ownership is completely focused on getting an agreement that works and is fair to both players and the clubs and that is their focus," he said.

There is a wide range of salaries in the NFL with the league's top earner, according to Sports Illustrated magazine, being Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, who last year earned $15.8 million in salary and almost the same again in endorsement deals.

However some players can earn as little as $225,000 - with the average salary for most position's estimated to be around $1 million.

The commissioner said that there was no doubt that negative consequences would follow if no deal was reached by the end of the current arrangement.

"If we are not successful at getting an agreement before March 4, I expect that the uncertainty will continue which will be bad for our partners, bad for the players and bad for our clubs.

"That uncertainty will lead to a reduction potentially in revenue and when that occurs there will be less for us to share and that will just make it harder to make an agreement. What we have to do is remove the uncertainty."

(Editing by Julian Linden)