The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate… The Bigger They Are

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

The NFL is the acknowledged king of professional sports in America. It dominates the sports landscape, it dominates sports television, and it dominates many of our televisions from August through February. For some, it dominates our televisions year-round because, after the Super Bowl, we have The Combine, then the draft, then mini-camps, then training camps, then pre-season games… and then the rest of us tune in once again. However, if the axiom “the bigger they are, the harder they fall” holds true, the NFL is in for a rude awakening if it and its players expect to assume their preeminent position after a lockout.

For many, including myself before I thought more about this post, the concept of the NFL slipping from its mighty perch among professional sports is unfathomable. However, the history of professional sports is filled with leagues moving up and down the pecking order in the eyes and ears of the average fan. Fifteen years ago, CART and NASCAR were on equal footing in television ratings and attendance. Formula One was expressly forbidding tracks from hosting rounds of the CART championship because the powers that be feared that the American series was making too many inroads internationally. Today, NASCAR is the second most watched sport behind the NFL. Where is CART? It “merged” with the IRL (nee Indycar) and can now be found on Versus between re-runs of Whacked Out Sports. Twenty years ago, did anyone anticipate that baseball would be anything but America’s pastime? Many would now argue that football has surpassed baseball in that regard.

What weakened organizations like CART and Major League Baseball? Poor communication between the people in power, and the people who put on the show.

The dangerous game of chicken that the NFL and NFLPA are playing assumes that the spectating public cares who is right and who is wrong. The vast majority of the spectating public does not care. Whatever the facts of the argument are, and whatever legitimate issues are raised in the labor discussions, the majority of people see the possible NFL labor strife as an argument between a bunch of millionaires and a bunch of billionaires. If the two parties cannot come to an agreement and continue to put on the show, I don’t believe the average fan will gravitate back to the NFL – at least not all of the fans.

When there is no NFL they will find something else to fill their sports void – baseball, hockey, auto racing, etc. They may or may not come back to a sport that will be tainted with the stain of “we do not care about our average fan.” They’ll hoist their mugs in support of another sport and another team.

More concerning for the NFL, however, is the effect a potential lockout will have on the hardcore football fans that shell out thousands of dollars for tickets, t-shirts, videos, etc. In a struggling economy, many people have to make real decisions with their entertainment dollars. If hardcore fans see a team they’ve put their heart and soul into close up shop for six months because they cannot agree with their players on how to split a multi-billion dollar pie, will they come to realize that their lifelong “investment” is all for naught? I think some of them will.

The NFL should take a lesson from the political realm. As one party gains what they perceive to be a stranglehold on legislative power, the discussion begins of “permanent majorities.” Deep down, I believe the NFL believes it is in possession of a permanent majority of the American sports fan. They are wise to take a lesson from the last permanent majority that did not heed the words of the people who put them in that position. As President Obama said, “It was a shellacking.” That’s the type of shellacking the NFL can ill afford. After all, the bigger they are the harder they fall.

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