The gridiron was grounded last week, as NFL owners and players failed to come to an agreement for the 2011 season.
No one believes that the first NFL lockout since 1987 will be permanent. Both sides have too much to lose if this is the end of pro football as we know it. However, if the end result is a strike-shortened season, a sloppy product on the field, or fan disengagement, there will be more than a few public companies feeling the pinch.
Let's go over a few of the companies that have a lot riding on the upcoming NFL season.
Disney (NYSE: DIS )
One of the earliest victims of the impasse will be ESPN's parent company. The global sports programming juggernaut has made its NFL draft coverage a magnetic rite every April.
Deal or no deal, the draft is still going to happen. However, surfacing reports indicate that the players union is asking elite college athletes who are likely to be early picks to not show up to the Radio City Music Hall for the festivities. Viewers may tune in for the tension and to see who their favorite teams draft anyway, but the one-sided programming is going to be a real dud.
Making matters worse for Disney's ESPN? Are you not ready for some Monday Night Football? Fox and CBS (NYSE: CBS ) will also naturally suffer during their Sunday afternoon broadcasts. Let's just hope they don't fill that space with more Ron Papeil infomercials!
Buffalo Wild Wings (Nasdaq: BWLD )
You probably didn't see a restaurant name coming, but the chicken wing specialist is really a family-friendly sports bar chain.
"The potential for an NFL lockout continues to loom over the company, but we think a lockout is by no means assured, and if there is one, we suggest it would not last more than a few weeks," Miller Tabak's Stephen Anderson wrote in an analyst note last month.
Well, the lockout is already happening. If this bleeds into the summer and forces the league to either use replacement players or shorten the season, it wouldn't be a shocker to see comps take a hit at Buffalo Wild Wings.
DIRECTV (NYSE: DTV )
No cable or satellite television provider relies on football the way DIRECTV does. It is the exclusive provider of the NFL Sunday Ticket, paying the league $1 billion annually for the right to provide complete coverage of every game played.
DIRECTV subscribers pay a healthy premium for the package.
Obviously, DIRECTV isn't going to charge its subscribers for a lost season. The same can be said for the NFL charging DIRECTV. However, disgruntled fans who lose interest after watching millionaires spar with billionaires may decide that sticking with DIRECTV when so many cheaper alternatives are out there may not be worth it.
Sirius XM Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI )
Sirius extended its NFL deal for another five seasons back in December.
Sirius subscribers don't pay a premium for NFL coverage, unlike DIRECTV accounts. This is a distinction that may come in handy with Sirius XM actually saving money if the gridiron gripe translates into few content payments.
A few years ago, this could have been catastrophic. Subscribers to NFL-centric Sirius would switch over to baseball-happy XM. It doesn't matter now. Sirius XM owns both satellite radio operators.
Under Armour (NYSE: UA ) and Nike (NYSE: NKE )
I'm lumping the athletic footwear makers into a single category because they have similar fates. Under Armour began making football cleats a few years ago. Nike -- already in cahoots with the Dallas Cowboys -- unveiled the Nike Alpha Talon Cleat three months ago.
College football will obviously still play on, so it's not as if Under Armour or Nike will have to panhandle during the lockout. However, brand exposure is important, and it will undoubtedly suffer if prime-time opportunities fizzle out.
Hopefully none of these companies will come to suffer the fiscal hits that a work stoppage would deliver. Investors need to have a game plan either way.
How do you think the NFL lockout will play itself out? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.