NFL Fans to Fume

Perhaps it has something to do with the miscellany of avian mascots scattered throughout the National Football League, but the labor dispute between owners and players has given rise to a flock of bird-happy metaphors. Sportswriters characterize the deadlock as a doomed game of chicken while agents decry the killing of what amounts to an $8 billion golden goose.

For millions of NFL fans, a more far-reaching assessment might necessitate the phrase “dead duck.” A new study from Optimum Sports finds 84 percent of die-hard NFL fans said they’d be unsettled by a loss of Sunday football, and 21 percent warned that they’d go so far as to boycott the league altogether once play resumes.

With the collective bargaining agreement set to expire March 4, a lockout seems all but inevitable. Four days after Super Bowl XLV drew a record 111 million viewers, an unproductive meeting between the NFL and the players’ union was cut short, and Thursday’s session was scuttled altogether. That same day, the NFL confirmed that the owners’ meeting to take place Feb. 15 in Philadelphia also had been called off.

If any regular season games are canceled, broadcasters will have to scramble to find football-sized GRPs for their auto, CPG, beer and movie clients. “The networks can replace a portion of that audience but certainly not all of it. If it were that easy to program a 12 rating, everyone would do it,” said Optimum Sports director Tom McGovern.

While 27 percent of avid NFL fans said they’d watch more college football, that would be of little solace to CBS and Fox. And yes, the NBA and NHL may siphon off disaffected football fans, but that’s a Band-Aids-and-bullet-holes resolution.

“Football is a magnet that draws people of all ages, but the losses will be felt beyond the screen,” McGovern said. Case in point: The $4 billion fantasy football league market would utterly disappear, crippling traffic (and ad revenue) on top NFL news and stats sites.