By Sam Hyman
I could not care less about the NFL lockout. It is not that the thought of millionaires fighting with billionaires over who gets more money turns me off; it is not that $9 billion pies do not intrigue me (unless it is my $9 billion pie that is); it is not even the fact that there is no free agency.
None of these things bother me because, at the end of the day, none of them will matter. When this lockout is lifted, and the season begins, will football fans really care about whether the owners got one billion dollars or two? Three years down the line, will fans really be upset that their team had to wait a few months to try and sign Nnamdi Asomugha or Sidney Rice?
The undeniable truth is that, for the average football fan, the only thing that matters is whether football is on television every Sunday.
In the last two decades, all of the Big Four sports have gone through a work stoppage (1994-95 MLB strike, 1998-99 NBA lockout, 2004-05 NHL lockout, 2011- NFL lockout).
For the vast majority of baseball fans, all they can tell you about the strike is that there was no 1994 World Series. Most basketball fans can tell you that the NBA only played 50 games in 1999. The unluckiest of the bunch, hockey fans know all too well that there was no season to speak of in 2004-05.
Through all of this, you would be hard-pressed to find a fan that can remember the specific details of what the stoppages were actually about.
What fans do remember are the games they miss. When average MLB attendance fell by over 20% from 1994 to 1995, it was not because those 20-percenters wanted to punish the owners for their greed. When NBA television ratings fell for three consecutive seasons following the lockout, it was not because fans were upset with the owners for wanting a salary cap.
The fans that express their discontent are the ones that continue to show up, the difference being that when they are upset, they bring their signs and they boo.
When attendance and television ratings decrease, it is not because people are mad. The only fans that care enough to get mad are the die-hard fans, and they are not going anywhere. The ratings and attendance suffer after a work stoppage because the casual fans, the people who have a weak bond with the game, end up realizing that they have no bond with the game and leave. Casual fans come and go. Even without a work stoppage, this demographic will change every season. When there is a lockout, however, this faction disappears and the numbers fall. The only reason that any of this matters is because we live in a “what have you done for me lately” world.
In this myopic society that we all live in, people will inevitably overreact. When the statistics decline, NFL teams will worry, as will networks executives; they most likely will make a few irrationally shortsighted decisions. Eventually, people will forget, the casual fans will come back, and the numbers will return.
A labor stoppage in one of the Big Four has happened 3 times in the last 17 years and 19 times in the last 43 years. Even with a stoppage on average almost once every 2 years, the numbers have always come back.
The truth is that the popularity of football in this country is at an all-time high. If the NFL survived a strike in 1982 (television deal made $420 million per year) and another in 1987 ($473 million per year), it is highly likely that it wouldn’t suffer now ($3.085 billion per year).
The bottom line is that the lockout does not really matter to the fans. True fans are not going anywhere and casual fans are cyclical to begin with. Attendance and television ratings may suffer in the short-term, but five years from now, they will be at an all-time high.
Every labor dispute is about money. Twenty years from now, I am sure I will be able to tell you that the 2011 NFL lockout was about whether the owners or players should get more money; however, I am equally sure that I will not remember all of the miniscule details that I know now.
Quite simply, I will not remember the details because the details do not affect me. The inconsequential facts are why I do not care about the lockout. Just make sure football starts every Sunday at 1:00 PM and I am a happy customer.