The 8 Biggest Lockouts in Sports History


The NBA lockout is finally over after nearly six months and basketball fans are facing, at the very least, a shortened season. All games through December 15, 2011, have been canceled and we won’t see the first action until Christmas Day. This most recent lockout in professional sports only resolved itself when players reached an agreement with the NBA team owners, with the big issues being, as usual, revenue sharing and salary cap structure.

While you’re waiting for basketball to turn up on December 25th, here’s a look back at the biggest strikes and lockouts in pro sports history.

8. The 1972 Major League Baseball Strike

This was the first strike in MLB history. While it only lasted 13 days altogether, it had a big impact. Eighty-six lost games were never made up, and both players and owners took a financial hit, but the players gained the right to arbitrate salaries as well as a $500,000 pension boost. And the teams still got to play around 150 games, which, to us non-baseball aficionados, seems like more than enough.

7. NFL’s 1987 Strike Fail

On September 22, 1987 National Football League players decided to strike after the second game of the season. They believed the cancellation of games would cause the television networks to put pressure on the owners, who would then give in to the players’ demands for free agency. Instead, the owners recruited players who had been cut from training camp as replacements, and after a week all the games went on as scheduled. The pros were shut out, and the owners and networks continued to make money — particularly as the replacement players were only getting $1000 a week. Just ten days later, the players’ union caved and the NFL went back to work, with none of their demands met.

6. The 1982 National Football League Strike

Slightly more successful in NFL history was the 1982 strike, which lasted 57 days. The players went on strike because they wanted 55 percent of revenue to go toward their salaries. The strike shortened the season to 9 games, with play-offs reworked into a one-time “Super Bowl Tournament.” The players’ union, struggling with internal dissension, finally accepted a one-time $60 million payment to return to work along with a boost in minimum salaries.

5. 1981’s Baseball Strike

This one lasted just over three months and was the first baseball strike to take place in the middle of a season. Like the 1987 NFL strike, the issue was compensation for free agency. It eventually resolved, mostly to the players benefit, but when the season resumed in August, things got a little weird. It started right back up with the All-Star game, and the league decided to split the season into two halves, pre- and post-strike. Each MLB division had a first half winner and a second half winner, and the playoffs consisted of those two battling it out for the division champion.

4. The 1994 National Hockey League Lockout

The NHL had its first-ever strike in 1992, which was resolved quickly when the players signed off on a collective bargaining agreement. Unfortunately, the agreement was only good for two years. Negotiations on a new agreement stalled, and a lockout began prior to the 1994-1995 season. Owners wanted a payroll tax to offset the costs of subsidizing teams in weaker markets; players wanted revenue sharing. In the end, after 104 days, a six-year agreement that no one particularly liked was signed. Owners received a few concessions from players, and agreed to nix the payroll tax. The season began January 20, 1995, shortened to 48 instead of 84 games.

3. The 1998-99 NBA Lockout

The third lockout in NBA history lasted from July 1998 through January 1999. The owners wanted to institute salary caps; the players wanted to raise the league’s minimum salary. The owners mostly won this one, with individual salary ceilings and a rookie pay scale, although the league minimum was raised $15,000. The season was shortened to 50 games when play resumed, but the public fall-out guaranteed no one in the NBA really won. Attendance, tv ratings, and revenues all took a huge hit in the shortened season, and it certainly didn’t help that Michael Jordan retired during the lockout as well.

2. The 2004 NHL Lockout

The epic NHL lockout of 2004-2005 resulted in the first-ever cancellation of an entire major league sports season due to a labor dispute. The Stanley Cup was not awarded for the first time since 1919.  The clash was over salary caps, which, inevitably, the owners wanted and the players did not. By February of 2005, with neither side willing to budge, the entire season was shut down. An agreement was eventually reached in July, in time for the 2005 season, with a team payroll cap of $39 million in place and updated rules intended to spark a resurgence of interest among demoralized fans.

1. The 1994 Baseball Strike

In 1994, for the first time since 1904, the World Series was not played. The reason was the eighth work stoppage in Major League Baseball history, which cut the 1994 season short in August and resulted in an abbreviated 1995 season as well. It took five years for revenue to recover and a decade for attendance at MLB games to reach its pre-1994 mark. As usual, salaries were at issue and the sides were unable to reach an agreement. It was only after an injunction was issued restoring the rules of the expired labor contract that play finally resumed in April of 1995; the new contract wasn’t actually signed until March 1997.