The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate Verdict

January 20, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

Bleacher Fan stated it best with the opening statement of his argument. He indicated that 2011 has the potential to be a LOUSY year for sports. Can you really imagine a Fall and Winter without the NBA and NFL? I’d rather have an American Idol with Simon Cowell (wait, that’s happened!) It’s possible, folks. We could be miserable this Fall and forced to watch brand new episodes of Jersey Shore with our significant others and have to hear the word “Snookie” over and over. We might not recover!

But for this debate, I asked my colleagues to debate which league – the NBA or the NFL – would have a harder time coming back from a lockout.

First, let’s take a look at Bleacher Fan’s argument. He writes that the NBA would have a harder time to recover. As I stated in my intro, it’s been a pretty special year for the NBA, minus all the Carmelo Anthony trade speculation. Ratings are up. Interest is up (thanks, Lebron). Attendance is up. But Bleacher Fan took an interesting angle. Instead of focusing on the negatives on the NBA, he chose to focus on the strength of the NFL. Obviously, the numbers back up the fact that the stronger league is the NFL. It took years of momentum to establish that fact, too.

Meanwhile, Optimist Prime believes in the theory of “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” I felt like this was a unique and distinctive way to approach his side. There’s no sense of tackling the T-Rex that is the NFL when it comes to popularity. However, using an analogy that I had not thought of put everything in a different light. CART and NASCAR used to run neck in neck in the auto racing world in terms of recognition many years ago. The billion-dollar industry that NASCAR has become was no such thing. There was no SPEED channel. NASCAR went one way. CART went the other way, like Optimist Prime wrote. Remember the strike of 1994 in Major League Baseball? I know people that still hold a grudge towards baseball because, “That strike was nothing but greedy players wanting more money.”

Yet I’m not convinced though that the NBA can recover more quickly than the NFL. Nothing Optimist Prime wrote convinced me to dispute anything Bleacher Fan wrote, so I am siding with Bleacher Fan.

In my opinion, the NBA has been trying for years to recover from the retirement of Michael Jordan. A Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant three-peat tried to bring those casual fans back to the game, but even that leveled off. Maybe this is the year interest picks back up to those levels. Meanwhile, the NFL’s interest keeps growing to the point that we could break even more records this Sunday (we seemingly say this every playoff weekend now). The NFL has built itself such a cushion that no matter how far it does fall, I think it can recover.

If Lois Lane falls off a 100 foot building, and Superman catches her before she hits the ground, then she can recover. Sure, she’ll be a little panicked, but at least she’ll live to write about the story in the Daily Planet. That’s the same situation here. If there is a lockout, some fans will be bitter. But if the NFLPA and the owners reach an agreement before too much damage is done (and surely they will), then the damage can be repaired, and the fans will slowly come back. It’s football! What else are we going to do in the Fall?

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The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate

January 19, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Optimist Prime and Bleacher Fan.

As we enter the end of yet another NFL season we begin to soak in the possibility that, unfortunately, a lockout may be forthcoming.

That day is quickly forthcoming in March. If you’ve watched any sports recently you know this, but more importantly, if you’ve read our debates you know this because we’ve been frowning upon the possibility of it for months. The players and the owners are squabbling over various issues including the owners wanting an eighteen game schedule and a rookie pay scale, which we touched on in a debate earlier this week. This would be disappointing on many levels, especially with the NFL playoffs again drawing record ratings, and is poised to do so again this weekend with two highly anticipated matchups.

Somewhat quietly on the horizon is the possibility of an NBA lockout. The current agreement expires at the end of the regular season, and I don’t know if it could happen at a worse time. The league has worked so hard to overcome the Michael Jordan shadow. Sfter some 12 years I think the league has finally made some progress. Interest and awareness in the league is up and ratings are up double digits from a year ago. Obviously, the guys in Miami have a big part in that, but it never hurts to have a good team in big markets like Los Angeles, Boston, and even a resurgent Knicks team in New York City. Not to mention buzz worthy up and coming players like Blake Griffin and Derrick Rose have captivated fans across the nations. The NBA has buzz, people! But a looming lockout seriously threatens that.

Herein lies today’s debate. With both leagues currently enjoying lots of notoriety, which one would have a more difficult recovery?

Look at it from all angles, arguers. Optimist Prime will argue that the NFL would struggle more while Bleacher Fan will argue that the NBA would have a more difficult recovery.

Let’s hope neither sport gets put into that position… but for the sake of this debate, you’re locked out!

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The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate… NBA Enjoys Fans Thanks to Fair Weather

January 19, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

I am just going to come right out on the record – 2011 could be a really lousy year for sports, ESPECIALLY if we have lockouts in both the NBA and the NFL.

There is little doubt that fans would miss the NFL more than they would the NBA. That is not intended as a slight against the NBA, but when you consider the relative popularity of each sport, the NFL is far and away the king. The loss of the NFL, a league where popularity supersedes the NBA, would correspondingly supersede the loss of the NBA.

But we are not arguing about the sport that would be MISSED the most if they both close up shop for part or all of the next season. We are arguing about which sport itself which has more to lose. In answer to that, there is also little doubt – this time it’s the NBA.

Think about it. The NFL is the undisputed champion when it comes to fan support. While the loss of the NFL will greatly impact fans, the clamor for its return will be equally as great. The moment a deal gets signed, and REAL NFL players once again take to the gridiron, fans will flood back in droves. The NFL would not skip a beat in fan support.

The NBA will not be so lucky.

The NBA’s popularity right now is not sustainable. The league has prospered thanks to media obsession and the celebrity of LeBron James. The circus of “The Decision,” as well as the media frenzy in trying to predict where LeBron will sign, has single-handedly fueled the NBA’s national relevance for the past three seasons.

I am not exaggerating. Since 2008, the biggest stories out of the NBA were all about whether LeBron’s latest comments or actions could be an indication of his intentions for the summer of 2010.

Then, once “The Decision” was announced, fans have continued to follow the NBA, because they wanted to A) see how LeBron and company performed in Miami, and B) boo him whenever he comes to town.

Whether good guy or villain, the NBA owes its relevance to LeBron James.

As soon as LeBron goes away, the media will stop caring, the fans will forget, and the league loses all relevance.

Why the difference? Because unlike the NFL, where parity guarantees that every team can contend for the post-season every year, the NBA is completely dominated by a very small handful of franchises, a reality that is demonstrated in several different ways.

Fan Attendance
Even “bad” teams in the NFL repeatedly sell out each of game. In fact, during the 2010 season, nine different franchises AVERAGED sellouts for the entire season, and 30 out of 32 teams averaged to sell AT LEAST 80 percent of their total tickets. Compare that with the NBA, where only seven teams are averaging sellouts for each home game, with nine of the teams in the league failing to even reach that 80 percent total.

When Forbes published their list of the 50 most valuable sports franchises in the world last year, all 32 NFL franchises were on the list BEFORE a single NBA franchise was named, including the Buffalo Bills (33rd), Jacksonville Jaguars (37th), and Detroit Lions (38th). In fact, even the Formula One’s Ferrari Team (16th) is valued greater than any franchise the NBA has to offer. (In case you are wondering, the NBA barely even cracked the top 50, as its two most valuable franchises – the Los Angeles Lakers and the New York Knicks – checked in at 49 and 50, respectively).

What do these numbers mean? They mean that fans love the NFL more than the NBA. Even the perennial “losers” like Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo continue to generate greater revenue, and sell more tickets, than the very best of the NBA.

If NBA fans can’t even support their winners in the same manner as the NFL, what on earth is there to entice fans in Minneapolis or in Memphis to come back to the league once they’ve had a few months to forget that their teams stink?

Yes, the NFL would lose a TON of money while the players sit out, but the recovery would be exponentially faster than that of the NBA. It is not the immediacy of the lockout that these leagues need to fear, it is the long term ramifications. Between the NFL and the NBA, the road to recovery will be MUCH rockier for the hoopsters.

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The Which Lockout Hurts More Debate… The Bigger They Are

January 19, 2011

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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