There’s a growing perception that interest in the 2011 draft will be much lower than usual, barring a miraculous resolution of the labor dispute. We suspect that the owners and the players thought the opposite would be the case, given that the draft may be the only thing that happens for the rest of the offseason — and possibly for the rest of the year.
If that’s what they thought, they quite possibly thought wrong. We expect the television ratings for the draft to significantly drop, due in part to a conscious decision by some hardcore fans to turn their backs on a league that has turned its back on them and due in part to a sizable chunk of casual fans who have opted to pay no attention to anything NFL-related until the lockout ends.
Bolstering our belief in this regard is the fact that we’re hardly getting any questions about when the schedule will be released. Last year at this time, as the second half of April unfolded, we were being bombarded with e-mails and tweets regarding the expected moment on which the dates, times, and a specific sense of order would be applied to what each team already knows — the 16 games to be played in the coming season. In late March, there was a smattering of questions regarding whether the schedule will be released despite the lockout. Since then, we’ve received hardly any inquiries about it.
Our semi-educated guess is that fans realize it’s meaningless to even think about the slate of games absent a firm guarantee that the slate of games will be played. Indeed, the announcement of the preseason schedule brought shrugs and smirks, given that at this point it seems to be a foregone conclusion that August will conclude with no preseason games being played.
Even though mediation has resumed, the fact that the two sides lacked any urgency to talk after the lockout began and until Judge Susan Nelson ordered them to return to mediation has caused many to determine that the parties won’t get serious until the time comes to save the regular season, not the preseason.
Sure, it could all get worked out in time to save the preseason and the regular season. But the default position for many during this upside-down time in NFL history is to brace for the worst, and to hope for anything marginally better than that.
And so when the schedule is released at some point between now and April 28, look for the reaction to be somewhere in the gap between “so what?” and “who cares?”