Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Butterfly Effect of the NFL Lockout

butterfly lockIs football too big to fail? It’s long since surpassed the baseball as America’s national pastime. Last fall, a regular season football game between the New Orleans Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat Game Four of the World Series in overnight ratings. Though folks like Seth Everett (formerly of ESPN’s Baseball Today podcast) will tell you that baseball is best judged by local not national ratings, you simply can’t deny football’s dominance when it’s beating out the championships of other sports.

Football may not be so dominant this year, however.

The NFL recently instituted a lockout after the league and players failed to see eye to eye on a new collective bargaining agreement. If this were a sports blog, I’d delve into why the owners and players disagree ($$$, the proposed addition of two regular season games, $$$, etc.), but we’re not so I won’t.

I’ll just boil it down: if the two sides can’t reach an agreement, there won’t be football this year!

And it isn’t just the millionaire players and owners who’ll feel its absence.

Show Business

If you don’t watch football week-to-week (I don’t usually), it can be hard to fathom the stranglehold the NFL has on Sunday television. Football is a fucking event. People who go to church can’t wait to get home and watch some football. People who don’t go to church worship at the altar of the almighty pigskin.

I fear the lack of football on network television will create a programming black hole strong enough to swallow Sunday whole. Television execs will likely be worrying about the hard to qualify lead-in/lead-out benefits of football, says The Hollywood Reporter. Local affiliates for the football-carrying networks (CBS, Fox, and NBC) stand to lose the most as ad revenue dries up.

The next concern is where all of that ad money will go. Kevin Collins of Business Insider predicts that shrinking supply will send advertisers flocking to whatever highly-rated programs are left.

Marketers are faced with a tough decision: how long to wait before purchasing that ad time? If they don’t buy up the MLB playoffs and NCAA football now, they’ll be locked out when the time comes. But if they spend the money and football does go on, they’re screwed anyway.

Thinking about how much money rides on advertising during football games (think about your local television networks, your local car dealers, various consumer products and ad firms) makes my head hurt. I’m starting not to like football, now.

Final Fantasy

finalfantasyGood thing I can ignore real football and play fantasy football instead. Oh wait.

Fantasy football, an $800 million industry as of 2009, is freakishly huge. Every year, more websites spring into being fully-formed, Athena-like, ready to serve the slavering fantasy public. During the football season, my Facebook feed is filled with people I didn’t even think liked football bitching about how their fantasy team is performing (I’m one of them, too).

Without players generating stats for their countless fantasy owners, the game grinds to a halt. The $600 million deal Sprint signed with the NFL to offer fantasy services on its smartphones becomes worthless. Nobody wants to draft and play with replacement players.

If the season is cancelled but you still need a fantasy football fix, I recommend Kevin Hench’s revised “real-world behavior” rules. They certainly make Ben Roethlisberger a less appealing draft pick.

The Big Guy

To millions of people in this country, John Madden is not a former player, coach, or commentator. He is a brand. The Madden NFL series is videogame football. In fact, publisher EA Sports signed an exclusive rights deal with the NFL and the players’ union in 2004 to prevent any other third party from selling games using NFL licenses.

What happens if there’s no actual football, only virtual?

Speaking for EA Sports, PR director Rob Semsey told CNET that EA plans “to release Madden NFL 12 in August as always.” The NFL reportedly cut EA a financial break on the off chance that there is no season. 

johnmadden_lNo season at all is worst-case scenario for EA. Game industry soothsayer Michael Pachter told The Hollywood Reporter “that a complete cancellation of the NFL season would cost Madden around 50 percent of sales.” The holiday season is crucial to Madden’s success. Pachter expects the series would do fine if play resumed before Thanksgiving.

There will still be bros camping outside of GameStops. Your cousin who only buys games twice a year (“Yo, when’s that new Master Chief game come out?”) will still bug you to pick up a copy.

But that doesn’t mean John Madden will be happy.

The Little Guys

Plenty of other people will lose out if football goes unplayed. Play-by-play announcers won’t have plays to announce. Stadium employees won’t have patrons to sell things to or clean up after. Scalpers won’t have any suckers customers.

And let’s not forget about football card collectors – wait, what? I wasn’t even aware football cards were an industry. I have no logical basis for that assumption, it’s just that—you know what, ever mind. Football cards are in trouble!

Sports Cards Uncensored (because they’ve been censored for far too long) worries that a cancelled season will have a lasting impact on the shrinking sports card industry. Weakened by baseball and hockey strikes, “the card companies may not be able to stomach another work stoppage.” A year without a new crop of rookies may discourage consumers forced to be frugal by a sluggish economy.

Again, I had no idea football cards were even a thing. But I wholly endorse people being complete nerds about stuff they like, so it’d make me sad if an entire hobby dried up like this.

It’d also make me sad if chicken wings took too big of a hit. Joe Sanderson, CEO of Sanderson Farms, told ABC news, “It will be a major blow. If we don't have Sunday football, the demand will go down tremendously, and of course, if that happens, the price will go down.” While Sanderson doesn’t anticipate the lockout forcing layoffs at Sanderson, he worries for the restaurants and bars who purchase his product. “We sell about three million pounds of wings a week. And a lot of those wings to go sports bars.”

A new agreement must be reached by the NFL and the players. Will nobody think of the wings?