“Largely I think it’s a case of no harm, no foul,” said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California. “The Hall of Fame lost revenue for the game that was canceled. . . [but] I don’t think fans, the networks or advertisers feel they’ve been materially harmed. It’s been pretty easy for the NFL to get people back to a sense of business as usual.”
There seems to have been little fan backlash about the lockout since it ended and gave way almost immediately to a whirlwind of free agent activity and the opening of teams’ training camps.
Preseason television ratings have been strong, holding steady with more viewers than other sports generate during their regular seasons. NFL officials are projecting that regular season attendance will be up slightly from last season. The league is expecting a similar number of local TV blackouts to last season’s total of 26 games. The league’s national sponsorships are up about 15 percent from last year, and video traffic on the NFL’s Web site is up 40 percent. Ratings for the league-owned NFL Network are up 36 percent.
Fans quickly turned their attention back to story lines such as the new kickoff rules, the Philadelphia Eagles’ free agent shopping spree and Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning’s bid to return from neck surgery.
“There may have been a little bit of lost momentum,” said George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs. “But now that we have a 10-year agreement, we’ve established just the opposite. We’ve picked it right back up.”
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft issued a public apology to fans after the new labor deal was struck. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said then that there was work to be done for the league to make amends.
“We think that through a 10-year agreement here we’ve secured the future of the game to ensure that pledge to bring great football to our fans,” Goodell said. “I think we have some work to do, though, to make sure that they understand we are sorry for the frustration that we put them through over the last six months. . . . I think we have to make sure that we understand that our bond with our fans is the primary issue that all of us have to keep focused on.”
Each side could point to gains secured in certain aspects of the labor deal. Team owners won an economic system that gives players an average of at least 47 percent of the sport’s burgeoning revenue, compared to the approximately 50 percent they were getting previously. The owners also installed a rookie pay system designed to curb the amount of guaranteed money in the contracts of first-round draft picks. The funds were diverted to veteran players.