Post-lockout thoughts: Labor strife as marketing tool

A few football thoughts post-lockout. My usual reminder that I don’t really know a whole lot about the sport, though I did meet LT once.

A few football thoughts post-lockout. My usual reminder that I don’t really know a whole lot about the sport, though I did meet LT once.

While building itself into probably the most lucrative, powerful and popular major sports league, the NFL has accomplished a great deal. But I think its greatest achievement is finding a way to take the most loathed concept among American sports fans – the lockout – and turn it into an enormously successful marketing campaign.

They say you don’t know what you have until it’s gone, and that obviously applies here. Of course, football fans never actually explicitly lost anything of substance, but it was enough merely to be faced with that scenario. You saw an entire nation gleefully evoking Vince McMahon during his announcement of the ill-fated XFL: “Where’s my football!”
The concept of Sundays in Autumn without football is unconscionable; people rely on that for balance. After working hard all week, it’s the American way to have one day of rest – and by rest, I mean potato chips, beer, barbecue and fantasy football scores.

In effect, by inadvertently dangling the possibility of football-free Sundays, the NFL succeeded in making everyone realize exactly how revolting that concept was to them. They took fans who were already in their wheelhouse, and made them that much more ardent by averting a situation they never should have been in anyway.

I was 15 years old when the 1994 baseball strike happened, and I was so overwhelmingly frustrated that it forever changed me as a sports fan.

Baseball was my first sports love, and I’d say my pre-strike breakdown of devotion was 70% baseball, 15% basketball and 15% football. (I didn’t, and don’t now, care for hockey.) I was so enraged by the thought of there being no World Series that I bitterly vowed never to go to another game.

I obviously didn’t hold to that, but I didn’t come running right back either – it would be over three years before I brought myself to return to Shea Stadium. By the time the Mets amassed the greatest infield ever, I felt I was ready to give it a shot. And a few years later, when I started making a living in baseball, I figured I was probably ready to fully get over it.

But though your wounds heal, there’s a small portion deep down that never truly goes away. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to love baseball the way I did before the lockout, the way I did as a kid. Even as the sport’s labor situation became better than it had ever been before, there was that part of me that remained gun-shy.

That’s the difference when you actually end up missing games, as I’m sure the NBA is well aware of. They lost attendance and TV ratings after the first lockout – though losing Michael Jordan probably also had a little something to do with that – and they know they’re again at risk of erasing the goodwill of a compelling, albeit supposedly unprofitable, NBA season.

That’s the accidental genius of this NFL lockout. It held people close to the fire, didn’t push them in, and that just made them appreciate more what they’ve got. (In fact, I’d imagine a decent number of fans covertly found it refreshing not to have to be exposed to so much ancillary nonsense during the offseason.) As a result, this wild NFL free agency period, where it seems like every player in the sport is on the move, has even usurped the baseball Trade Deadline.

I’ve heard stories about teams sending players out to personally deliver season tickets to subscribers, and that’s all well and good, but it’s unnecessary. Fans were figuratively greeting them with open arms before they even got there, with NFL tickets going for 23% more on the secondary market than this time last year. People won’t forget the lockout happened, it’ll just make them that much more hungry for football this fall.

I have to be honest about something: A part of me was actually intrigued to see what football-free Sundays would look like. It’s not that I don’t like football — I do, though if I try to go out and watch it, the shouting and bravado get to be a bit off-putting for me.

It’s more that I was curious to see what non-football Sundays in the fall would be like. What would people use for alternatives?

Generally, I try to go for runs during the 1 p.m. games since there are minimal cars on the road. Honestly, it’s like a ghost town. With no football, would I maybe actually see husbands walking with their wives? (I doubt I’ve seen a single instance of that.) Would museums experience a boom period? Would millions of red-blooded Americans discover mimosas?

All of that was far more interesting to me than ascertaining how many touchdowns Tom Brady was going to throw this season.

But given the economic hit an NFL lockout would have administered across the board – it’s not like Americans need more debt at this point – it’s definitely good how things worked out.

And though I hope to never see baseball lock out again, given how the $9 billion NFL ended up more popular than ever, maybe adding a little uncertainty to the mix isn’t the worst thing.

*****

— As a lifelong Dolphins fan, I have no love lost for the Jets, but I’m sort of rooting for them to beat out the Cowboys for Nnamdi Asomugha just for the cool factor of it. I’d be fascinated to see how teams would attempt to attack the Jets with Asomugha and Darrelle Revis, making up for their top two wideouts being completely taken out of the equation. And forget about taking AFC East receivers in fantasy drafts, these guys have been killing Andre Johnson for me for years. Even if it’s a team you sort of hate, there’s something pretty cool about seeing potentially the best cover duo of all time playing together. I used to dig watching Sam Madison and Patrick Surtain playing primarily press coverage together. Those guys were really good, but nothing compared to what Revis and Asomugha would be.

I’d also be intrigued to see Asomugha’s much ballyhooed acting career continue, because I love when athletes act in stuff, and apparently that can only continue to happen in New York. I’ve apparently seen him in something, since I watch Friday Night Lights religiously, but I don’t recall his performance as a cop, and I don’t own the fourth season yet.

*Note that right after I posted this, the Jets apparently “dropped out of the running.” So, there’s that.

— Get married to Ben Roethlisberger? Yeah, that’ll work out just fine.

— Apparently, there’s no HBO Hard Knocks this year, which scuttles my dream scenario of finding out what the heck a conversation between Vick and Vince Young consists of.

— As a big fan of Reggie Bush the character, I’m amused that my favorite team decided to bring him in since I don’t think he’s a particularly good football player. He gets hurt too often, and for a guy who supposedly is a “big play threat,” he rarely actually breaks big plays. He’s like a stolen-base threat with a sub-.300 on-base percentage. But if I’ve said it once, I’ve said it 1,000 times: You’re only as good as your team’s owner. And this fits in perfectly with the Dolphins’ new owner, Stephen Ross, who seems more consumed with creating buzz around his team by attracting celebrities than winning football games – which, honestly, is the only real way to attract buzz around a team. Bush should fit right in with Jimmy Buffett and J-Lo – actually, isn’t it only a matter of time before he makes a pass at J-Lo? – and I look forward to seeing him hobbling around on crutches at the club with LeBron James. As for the Dolphins? Considering the coach apparently thinks Bush is an every-down player, I’m resigned to the fact that they’re not going to be good for quite some time. At least they didn’t trade for Kyle Orton.

Esoteric

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