In a new AdWeek/Harris Poll of 2,124 Americans (why do these things never have a round number?), a whopping 19 percent said that they will be less likely to watch NFL games, if the lockout delays the start of the 2011 season. More than half of the 19 percent said they would be “much less likely” to watch.
Here’s the specific question that was posed to the 2,124, from April 25 through April 27: “There is some talk that the upcoming NFL season may be delayed because the current labor lockout will continue. If this happens, how much more or less likely, if at all, will you be to watch football when the season begins?”
Four percent said they will be more likely to watch after a lockout that delays the season, and 10 percent said that they are not sure. The good news for the NFL is that 67 percent said a delayed start of the season will have no impact on their viewing habits. And we’ve got a feeling that the NFL will shrug at the 19 percent as simply the manifestation of fan frustration that would dissipate instantly once the lockout ends. (We’re not sure we agree with that approach, if that’s the approach the NFL takes.)
Here’s another factor that may have impacted the numbers. The window in which the poll was taken — April 25-27 — encompassed three of the worst P.R. days for the NFL during the lockout. The first day ended with Judge Nelson’s ruling lifting the lockout, and the third day ended with Judge Nelson essentially insisting that the ruling lifting the lockout be honored immediately. In the interim, the NFL descended into chaos, confusion, and arguable defiance of Judge Nelson’s wishes.
The folks who put the poll together didn’t point out the dynamics of the selected polling period, opting instead to insert an editorial comment that possibly is aimed at attracting more media and fan attention to a poll that doesn’t directly point to this conclusion: “Although professional football has reigned as America’s favorite sport for many years, between the current labor lockout and increased understanding of the damaging effects of head injuries, the sport may have a rough road ahead. Professional football is a business, as the fierce labor lockout makes abundantly clear, yet if these financial discussions turn off the fans, NFL executives may need to reevaluate their priorities. While players and coaches can be replaced (some more easily than others), the one thing professional football cannot survive without, are the millions of Americans who watch the games, play the related fantasy sports, buy team gear, snacks, beverages and countless other products and services related to the industry. Could you imagine a world with no Super Bowl ads?”
For starters, the poll posed no question about the influence of head injuries on viewing habits. Likewise, the poll placed no time limit on the extent of any fan boycott of the NFL. The 19 percent could ignore the NFL for a month, a week, a year, a decade, or more; we simply don’t know the answer to that question because that question wasn’t asked.
In the end, it simply seems odd that an organization that aspires to harvest specific facts via a polling process would, when presenting the results, speculate so wildly on the long-term health of the sport. That said, there are plenty of reasons for the NFL to be more concerned about the long-term health of the sport and less concerned about the concept of winning a favorable labor deal from the players.