Sunday, May 29, 2011

Just Say No To A Lockout, Part 2

Had a nice response to my plea to the masses to stage an intervention on the NFL from JuiceLaw over at Archie Manning's Bastards.  In his piece, Juice offers the defense that, regardless of our feelings, nothing we do will be able to impact the efforts of corporate interests.
Gigantic corporations don't care what you think, because they provide a product or service that nobody else does. In this case, there isn't another NFL. The idea that caring or not caring about the lockout is going to fix anything or change anyone's mind is ludicrous. I am personally not enabling anything. Sure, collectively I may be part of the problem, but the only way to truly affect a billion dollar business would be for EVERYONE to not have anything to do with the NFL until they fix the labor issues, and THEN to not embrace them when they came back. And this is impossible. Unless or until there is somewhere else to get the Green Bay Packers. And there is not. Nothing is going to change regardless of what I do.

And I will give Juice some props on this point.  The NFL was able to survive a season by giving us replacement players....and we PAID MONEY to sit in Lambeau Field to watch them.  Since those days, despite that egregious move on the part of the owners, the NFL has continued to grow into the most-watched sport in the nation.

In other words, the NFL may be too big to fail.

I may be idealistic and big-picture sometimes, so I do understand his point that, in the grand scheme of things, my personal opinion isn't of major concern to the gods that control our nation's economy.  And just because I am unhappy with funneling money out of my local Wisconsin economy to fund Bentonville doesn't mean I stop going to Wal-Mart to save some money, also.

But I have a tough time buying in to the "we have no control" theory:  ergo, we may just as well sit back and accept it.  Maybe it's a little populist of me, but I don't like believing that the customers of this league have no power.  Because, in reality, we do.

The problem is that we are reactive instead of proactive, but make no doubt that public opinion can create (and has created) major sways in the corporate world.  As a result of the NHL lockout, the advances hockey had made in America, including a $600M network deal with NBC, was wiped out.  Now, you might find the NFL on Versus, if you're lucky (or interested). The NHL has become primarily funded through attendance again, and that's no path to prosperity in today's sports world.

The NHL suffered from acute disinterest, but MLB suffered true fan backlash, with many fans acting out by "striking" against baseball.  Incidents across the nation made headlines, with fans running out on the field and throwing money at players, throwing sticks onto the field, and, certainly not the least of the grievances, booing loudly throughout the games.  More importantly, baseball suffered financially, with over a 20% drop in attendance post-strike, and after losing $300M by not playing, operating revenue was cut from $1.87 billion in 1993 to $1.2 billion in 1994 and didn’t reach its former mark until 1997.

Remember Bob Uecker begging us to "Come On Back" to the stadium?  Yes, the fans had a voice and impacted the corporate world of professional sports.

The problem comes in that we, as fans, wait to have the worst happen to us.  We beg, we plead, we threaten...but we never let the sports world forget that we revolve around them, not the other way around.

But, take a look at the major sports' work stoppages in chronological order: 

Yes, in 1987, the NFL cancelled part of the season, and survived for the most part.

But in 1994, MLB had a strike and cancelled a season, and it took them years to recover financially.

In 1998, the NBA had a lockout and cancelled just part of a season,  and ticket sales and television ratings took three years to recover.

In 2004, the NHL had a lockout and cancelled an entire season, and never recovered.

Seeing the pattern?  Fans aren't putting up with it anymore. NFL (and NBA) are you paying attention?  We don't WANT the backlash, but as society has changed over the last twenty years, so have what we have come to expect from our teams we support. 

My point is that while I may agree with JuiceLaw that it would very difficult (if not impossible) to send a message NOW to the league that they will suffer if they cancel games, I disagree that a collective fan base cannot have a major impact.

But, going back to my original post, the first step would be to stop begging the players and owners that we will do ANYTHING for football.  The longer that message is sent, the longer this will go on...until both sides realize they have to agree to save what they have, not holding out for that extra billion dollars.


BigSnakeMan said...

On one level, I agree with you that fans should demonstrate a degree of indifference in order to encourage an agreement. But I think that 'Bastards' is right when they suggest that threat is largely meaningless without a real prospect that the fans won't return once things are settled. And that's a tough sell.

I've said from the beginning of this thing that nothing is going to happen until both sides begin to lose some substantial (to them) money; until that happens, there's no incentive for either to negotiate in good faith. I've seen nothing in the interim to make me change my mind. Eventually (though perhaps not soon enough) the NFL and the Players Assn. will sort things out because there's too much money involved not to.

There was a time when I (like many others) 'lived & died' with the Packers but as I've grown older I tend to view professional sports in a much more cynical light. I'm not naive enough to believe that I won't miss the NFL if games are postponed/eliminated; nor that I won't return once the sport is reinstated. But I can certainly find other things to spend my time and money on if the parties involved are determined to pursue their own greedy agendas. And perhaps, in the end, I will be better off for it.

To put it simply, wake me when it's over.

John Rehor said...

I have thought since the lockout began that as long as games are not lost, the NFL will be able to recover from this period of inactivity. Fans are fickle, and the first time games are lost due to the lockout, regardless of which side you are leaning towards, fans will start to walk away and football will lose fan interest, just the same as the other major sports have.

Neither the owners nor the players can possibly be this stupid, can they? To jeopardize the popularity of the NFL, and the financial futures of teams AND players would be an exercise in stupidity.

At the end of the day, it's the fans who suffer. The thing both sides need to realize quickly is we have the ability to walk away from the game if it got to that point. We dont benefit financially from football-the players and owners are the ones who stand to lose millions. To try and rebuild the reputation of football would be difficult. Just ask MLB and pro hockey.

BigSnakeMan said...

It seems to me that, while it took awhile and certainly longer than they would have liked, MLB has recovered quite nicely. What attendance problems there are currently can be just as easily explained by the economy and the mismanagement of certain ballclubs as by any previous labor strife. And the NHL was never really much more than a fringe sport in this country anyway.

Fans, just like owners and players, tend to act in their own self interest. There may be a fraction that will hold the lockout against the NFL but most people will still spend money on it if they continue to find entertainment value in the product.

Juicelaw said...

I think that we largely agree. I certainly didn't disagree with your big picture view. Just that even based on my personal feelings (about the Packers, NFL, money) I will be back whenever they are. And I feel dirty and used.

I bet there are a large number of Viking and Lion fans that don't feel the same way though.