The NFL Network’s former ad campaign said it all: “Football season never ends.”
That’s why this work stoppage is unlike the player strikes of the 1980’s. The enormous increase of fan interest over the last decade in the NFL offseason will only amplify anger at ownership and players. The league has become a victim of its own success.
Things were much different as recently as eight years ago, when I started writing at Rotoworld full time. Back then, the morning newspapers set the agenda of the news day. After they were digested, very little information came out.
There were practically no newspaper blogs. Team-owned websites were barely updated, if at all. There was no unending stream of Twitter updates. Heck, Florio only updated PFT very early in the morning or very late at night because he had a real job to attend to.
Things have changed dramatically since, in no small part because of NFL Network. The league’s saturation coverage of the Combine, free agency, and OTAs forced ESPN to step up their game. There certainly didn’t used to be daily NFL Live episodes in the dead of the offseason, much less weeks of Combine talk on Sportscenter.
Websites like PFT and Rotoworld started to notice a voracious appetite for all things NFL, no matter the month. The highest trafficked day of the year, after all, is annually the first day of free agency. PFT’s offseason traffic routinely beat the regular season.
Newspaper blogs and team sites quickly realized that readers wanted more than sporadic, daily updates. Fans wanted information all day. Football season never ends, and neither does the NFL news cycle.
The NFL’s plan to grow the game into a 12-month-a-year obsession worked. The NFL became the nation’s ultimate reality show and everyone got rich(er) as a result.
Trey Wingo noted on Saturday the three most-read articles on ESPN.com were NFL-related lockout stories. The fourth-rated story — on college hoops — had half the traffic as the third NFL story.
The NFL’s success has suddenly become a weakness. The NFL and its players don’t have the luxury to wait until August before they look like greedy fools that take their success for granted. Fans are understandably outraged that the richest league in the country is in a work stoppage — even though it’s only March.
The question for the league and its players — who share responsibility for this lockout no matter what they say — is whether fan anger could possibly turn to ambivalence. They don’t think it will happen.
The league and players say they care about fans, but it’s a half truth at best. They care about the bottom line. They are counting on fans not really punishing them unless part of the season is missed, if then.
They fail to truly realize that March is the season for so many of us.
Their ad campaign worked too well.