Couch Slouch: Fans always return after a lockout


American professional sports fans, shown here gathering before an NBA Thunder playoff game in Oklahoma City, are pretty resilient, work stoppage or no work stoppage. (Christian Petersen/GETTY IMAGES)
May 22, 2011

This is as gloomy as Couch Slouch can ever recall:

The possibility of no NFL season in the fall.

The possibility of no NBA season later in the fall.

The possibility of the world ending in 2012.

And, of course, no more Oprah.

(I’m also not crazy about Ashton Kutcher replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men.” What, was Tony Danza out of the country? And you think Sheen was a production nightmare? The first time Kutcher gets home late from a long shoot, he’ll come back the next day with Demi Moore’s foot stuck up his derriere.)

With so much potential global despair, I have been a personal comedy of errors. Just recently, I made back-to-back miscues the like of which I had not committed in years.

First, I woke up before noon.

(I am a big advocate of sleeping in — if you’re not awake yet, less bad can happen to you. Note: This does not apply to clients of Goldman Sachs. Generally, your own bed is the safest place to brace yourself against office politics, conniving neighbors, midlife crises and random acts of violence.)

Secondly, I started reading an article in USA Today.

(I have no idea how USA Today ended up within arm’s length. I wasn’t in a hotel, and I hadn’t sat down in an airport terminal next to a tattered copy. Oh, that’s right, now I remember — I went online to read it. What was I thinking?)

The USA Today article was about a new study by Adweek and Harris Poll in which 19 percent of people surveyed said they would be less likely to keep watching the NFL if the 2011 season is delayed.

(It occurs me to that USA Today, if it eliminated all stories it publishes about polls and surveys, could be printed on a single page most mornings. Do you know how many times I’ve picked up USA Today and seen the headline, “New Poll: Americans Like Breakfast”?)

And so begins the latest mindless cycle: Every time one of the professional sports leagues is facing a work stoppage, we are told that fed-up fans might not come back.

Uh, they always come back.

In 1994, Major League Baseball, after a player strike in August, had no World Series. Since then, the fans have returned.

In 1998-99, the NBA regular season was reduced from 82 games to 50. Since then, the fans have returned.

In 2004-05, the NHL lost its entire season to a labor dispute. And the following season? The NHL had record attendance.

Which brings us to the NFL. In 1982, the NFL regular season was reduced from 16 to nine games, and in 1987, the league played three fake games with “replacement players.” Since then, the fans have, uh, returned.

Then again, if Hollywood stopped making films for, say, six months, would you refuse to go to movie theaters when they opened again?

If Michelangelo goes 10 years between sculptures, don’t you highly anticipate his next one? If J.D. Salinger goes 10 years between novels, aren’t you eager to read his next book? If Dennis Rodman goes 10 years between piercings, aren’t you deathly curious to see his next bodily harm?

Sports fans don’t come back because they’re stupid, they come back because they love the games.

(Late Column Intermission: Pabst Brewing announced it is moving its headquarters from Chicago to Los Angeles. They won’t brew any beer here in L.A., but I’ll now have an office in which to write! I’m sure a PBR rep will contact me ASAP; I hope I get a desk with a view, or near a vending machine.)

Perhaps you feel differently. Well, if this were USA Today, your voice could be heard right now. At the end of the USA Today article I cited was the following: “What’s your take? Will you return to watch NFL games if the league loses contests to the lockout? Vote in the poll below.” ANOTHER POLL? Can’t H.L. Mencken rise from the grave to save us? Alas, this isn’t USA Today. So if you want to disagree with my views, call me — I’ll either be in my bed, or under it.

Ask The Slouch

Q. Is writing a column science or art? (Stuart Kleiner; Pepper Pike, Ohio)

A. In my case, it’s three hours staring at a blank laptop screen, then 20 minutes of drinking two PBRs followed by 800 words of William Faulkneresque prose.

Q. In much the same way that teams employ trainers to assist players with inevitable injuries, does ESPN have an in-house bail bondsman? (Scott D. Shuster; Watertown, Mass.)

A. Actually, I’m an advocate of letting ’em sit in the can for a couple of nights to cool off.

Q. What exactly is a Ponzi scheme? (Kim Carpenter; Columbia, S.C.)

A. It’s like the triangle offense, except you’re guaranteed to score.

Q. Have you been contacted yet by HBO Sports for “Hard Knocks” to cover your marriage? (David A. Burns; Castleton, N.Y.)

A. Pay the man, Shirley.

You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just e-mail asktheslouch@aol.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!

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