NFL Fans: Why Would a Shortened Season Make You Stop Watching Football?

Caleb GarlingCorrespondent IApril 8, 2011

Let us in!
Let us in!Matt Ludtke/Getty Images

How will fans react if there is an NFL lockout? In their next issue, Sports Illustrated will release a poll that, according to the Baltimore Sun, says:

"Nearly half of fans (44 percent) say they would have less future interest in the NFL if the season was delayed or canceled. More than half of fans (53 percent) expect a full NFL season without replacement players in 2011, but if replacement players are used 63 percent will still watch."

Let me say first that I am firmly in the 53 percent that expect a season—without needing to call Keanu Reeves. I’ve written that I playfully believe we're watching something of a PR game, and that since there will be a season, there are myriad ways we can voice our annoyance with the legal antics that have polluted SportsCenter.

Also, we need to attach three major asterisks to the poll until the article comes out:

1)   People sometimes answer surveys the way they think they should, rather than with an honest opinion or representation of their true intentions (Also, see: Elections, Candidates of Different Ethnicities).

2)   314 people were surveyed. Considering the size of the NFL fan base and the diversity of the demographics, if I were going to shout data from the rooftops, I’d hope we’re dealing with a sample size in the healthy thousands.

Conflicting data
Conflicting dataJamie Squire/Getty Images

3)   We don’t know what the news was the day they were polled, nor in what market they live. For instance, within 48 hours of one another, a Kansas City blog and a Tennessee blog, both of SB Nation, had major differences—north of 20 percent—when surveying whether fans blamed owners, players or both for the lockout. That’s a lot.

I’d imagine SI will clear up those questions. But for argument’s sake, let’s take the poll as having truth(iness).

My first thought when hearing that a majority are okay with replacement players, was “Wow, 63 percent of the NFL’s fan base has no idea what they’re watching. If you’re okay with the league hiring a bunch of dudes to throw on jerseys, cram a playbook and put on bad football, just to take up your autumn afternoons…well…I dunno. I guess I wish I was that easily entertained.”

To each their own, I guess.

But, in terms of the other half of the poll, after thinking about the implications of the 44 percent that would watch less football, it seems that a significant percentage of fans have an-almost-too-personal investment in the NFL. I mean, whenever the league resolves its dispute and is back on TV for us to enjoy each Sunday, it’s not like they’ll have also slept with your girlfriend. It’s the same game. So why the scorn?

If the objective is voicing your opinion with your wallet and your time, that makes sense, but I have trouble believing almost half the country is thinking that way. My gut—a pollster's nemesis—says the answer lies far more in fans' emotional ties to the game.

I’ve always found it curious when someone vehemently says they hate a certain player. "Hate” is a strong word; I reserve the term for people like Hitler, Osama Bin Laden and, if we need to graze the sports arena, regurgitated fecal matter like Rae Carruth. To lash out at a guy you haven’t met seems unnecessarily intense. Albert Haynesworth epitomizes what is wrong with the modern athlete, but I can’t say I wish the guy any harm or think about him and get angry.

So part of me wonders whether these (overly) intense fans saying they’ll ditch the NFL if it locks out and that passionate reaction to players’ behavior aren’t intertwined somehow, psychologically, like a forgotten child lashing out at his divorcing parents.

Can’t you hear a neighbor or crotchety uncle shaking their fist and lamenting, “I can’t watch those S.O.B.’s anymore. Those greedy bastards don’t know how good they’ve got it. I’d rather rake leaves than watch those entitled meatheads play football.”

My question to these people is: What’s changed?

Just your perception of their character? When you watched last season, were you quietly wondering whether Dez Bryant and Dan Snyder would accept your Facebook-friend request? If you really plan on watching less football because you’re upset that the players and owners could be so selfish, so arrogant, so inconsiderate, so greedy, shouldn’t you take a step back and evaluate the manner in which you picture your niche in the NFL ecosystem?

I plan on making my voice heard other ways, but I’m still tuning in each Sunday. Football is football. The beer and hot wings taste the same too.

Maybe these questions are based on an inaccurate survey. But that gut feeling, to a degree, says otherwise.


[Caleb Garling is a B/R Featured Columnist and journalist for Follow him at]

Previous columns:

NFL Statistics: Why Advanced Math Doesn't Apply To Our Perception of Football

NFL Labor Issues: How Annoyed Fans Can Make Themselves Heard by the Owners 

NFL Lockout During Sports Purgatory: A Casual Conspiracy Theory 

NFL Lockout: Who Would Conspire Against the 2011 Season?