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Labour woes cloud the 2011 NFL season, but it's not the only North American professional sports league that's in jeopardy. ((Doug Pensinger/Getty Images))

Sports fans — we hope Santa brought you a PVR this holiday season.

You'll need that device to capture the remaining sports heroics and plays of the year since such acts may be few and far between in the coming months. That's assuming we believe all the talk from NFL and NBA league executives and their corresponding players' union counterparts.

When you begin your countdown on New Year's Eve, each second brings us closer to 2011 and the deadlines for the two major North American sports leagues bracing for work stoppages — the NFL labour contract expires on March 4, the NBA's on June 30 — while the NHL readies for the end of its collective bargaining agreement on Sept. 15, 2012, seven years after an entire season was lost.

Yes, it's an ominous look ahead to 2011, the year professional sports could fall victim to self-inflicted sabotage that's ramping up as 2010 draws to a close.

What they said: NFL

"We're completely focused and making it the highest priority to get a collective bargaining agreement. The fans want football." —  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

"The players believe this lockout is going to occur." — DeMaurice Smith, NFL union leader

NBA Players' Union chief Billy Hunter said in November that he's "99 per cent sure" the owners will lock out the players when the current collective bargaining agreement expires in June.

A letter to NFL players from their union boss DeMaurice Smith said the union had an "internal deadline" for agreeing to a new collective bargaining agreement.

It has come and gone.

"That deadline has now passed," Smith said in the letter. "It is important that you protect yourself and your family."

Smith has said that he believes the owners opted out with the goal of locking the players out. The NFLPA's home page features a "Lockout Watch" that counts down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until the CBA expires.

Year of the Squirrel

The NFL had its 1982 and 1987 seasons interrupted by strikes. The NBA oversaw pre-season lockouts in 1995, 1996 and 1998  and a regular-season lockout in 1998-99 that cancelled 464 total games. The NHL … well, I'll leave it to CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge to sum up how they became the first Noth American pro sports league to lose an entire season due to labour issues.

So what have they learned?

Well, it seems that it's not to avoid labour disruption at all costs, but to build a nest egg.

The Chinese New Year has 2011 pegged as the Year of the Rabbit but it may become the de facto Year of the Squirrel for all the money players in the NFL and NBA have been asked to put aside.

The NBA strike in 1998-99 cost about 40 per cent of that league's season, so players have been advised to prepare for the worst and start building some savings.

That aforementioned one-page letter on NFLPA stationery said the union expects the lockout on March 4, and that players should work with their advisers to prepare for a lack of salary.

So while it sounds like the union leaders must have attended an ING Direct workshop this past fall considering that Hunter and Smith have basically been parroting the "save your money!" catchphrase, it's not just the players and owners who have something at stake.

When pro athletes start squirreling away paycheques, it's not just their personal economy that suffers, it's a sure sign they are preparing for the worst, and it isn't only their jobs on the line; many, many more jobs as well as seasons themselves face extinction.

What they said: NBA

"I'm waiting to get some sign, some movement from owners, that they want to reach a reasonable deal. Right now they're being unreasonable. And I can't tell you when reason is going set in." — NBA Players' Union chief Billy Hunter

"The cost of producing the pie has been going up as well. But the players don't share in that cost. They only share in what the cost generates. Everything has gone up." — NBA commissioner David Stern

For example — The NFL players' association has estimated $160 million US in losses from local spending and 3,000 jobs in each league city if the 2011 season is scrapped.

These numbers are disputed by commissioner Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL brass, butclick here for the crux of the entire disagreement, spelled out for your viewing pleasure in 500 words.

NBA commissioner David Stern has publicly stated that the NBA has lost more than $300 million and is looking for about a 30 per cent rollback in player salaries.

The union and the league continue to talk.

Ghosts of lockouts past

And if you think losing either season isn't possible, then you must have blanked out the 2004-05 NHL season.

Oh, wait. They did that themselves.

Following the unthinkable of that lost season, nothing is truly unthinkable any more, even with the calm and reassuring words of new NHLPA union boss Donald Fehr, courtesy Hockey Night in Canada's Scott Morrison:

[Fehr] will be a formidable adversary for [NHL commissioner Gary]

Bettman, the best he has seen in his days running the NHL … Fehr, as we said, is not foreign to labour disruptions — baseball lost its World Series in 1994 remember — but he at least said the right things his first official day in office.

"If you would ask me, do I anticipate a stoppage, the answer is no and I certainly don't hope we will have one," said Fehr on a conference call following his appointment being made official. "But I'm not going to predict what happens during negotiations.

"I'm looking forward to what the following months and years may bring, especially the period leading up to and the negotiation of the new CBA. It's an important time for the players, I think it's an important time for the industry and I think viewed with a proper perspective it can be a very positive time for all involved."

Fehr's words can be applied to all three leagues. Here's hoping it's indeed a positive time for all — fans, players, owners and all others depending on business not getting in the way of sports.

If not, get ready to fire up that PVR.

with files from the Associated Press