Marketing Genius: How the NFL Has Increased in Popularity Even with the Lockout

Jake LangenkampCorrespondent IIIJuly 15, 2011

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 28:  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at the podium during the 2011 NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall on April 28, 2011 in New York City.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Chris Trotman/Getty Images

The NFL is by far the most popular sports league in America, and that is no accident.  Besides the qualities of the game of football itself that appeals to Americans, the NFL has brought marketing to near perfection.  This is a huge reason that players and owners are arguing over 9 billion dollars of revenue.

This labor dispute, which manifested in an owner instituted lockout of the players, threatened to derail the unprecedented popularity of football.  Historically, work stoppages have killed fan support of the other major sports leagues such as the NBA, MLB and NHL.

In a move of pure genius, however, the NFL owners and executives may have used such a work stoppage as a way to actually increase the exposure and popularity of the league.  In a perfect storm of circumstance and timing, the league may have instituted a more favorable agreement with players without skipping a beat in terms of fan support.

Twitter is abuzz with numerous journalists claiming that the labor negotiations are close to resolution, and will likely be completely settled within a day or two.  Unless a completely unforeseen roadblock appears today, reports indicate that lawyers will work through the weekend to finalize the language of the new collective bargaining agreement.

The excitement over the potential settlement among diehard fans is predictable and understandable.  For months they’ve been told that a few games or even the entire season could be lost.  Now it appears that they won’t even miss preseason time besides the usually inconsequential Hall of Fame game.

There are two general categories of NFL fans; the extremely passionate fans that follow year round, and the fans who like football but really only pay attention during the season.  There’s nothing wrong with either group, and both have a huge amount of people that fit their criteria.

To the fans that only pay attention during the season, the lockout will have been almost completely transparent for all intensive purposes if it is dissolved as expected.  This group starts paying attention to the NFL a few weeks before week one anyway, so their support will not be jeopardized.

To diehard fans, the lockout has felt more real.  As they hungered for any scrap of NFL news this offseason, the only thing of substance was the latest depressing news about the lockout.  Free agency was delayed by the work stoppage, and the draft was unorthodox because of the communication restrictions.

In any other year though, those are the only two main events of the NFL offseason.  While the draft has grown in popularity to the casual fan, free agency is still predominantly the domain of year round fans.  The in-season fan catches up on the developments in free agency as the excitement over the upcoming season reaches a fever pitch in the last few weeks of the preseason.

Now that the CBA will be agreed upon, free agency will immediately follow.  Excitement over a delayed and unorthodox free agency period this close to the season will affect both types of fans.  This will cause the casual fan to continue to be energized about the season until week one.

The true genius of resolving the lockout now is that the NFL is “giving” diehard fans back something that they never really lost.  They might complain that the lockout ruined their offseason, but every offseason is a desert of NFL news in which 90% of media attention is concentrated on one lone issue, a la Brett Favre's latest struggle with retirement.

The NFL knew for months that July 15 was the true deadline for getting a labor deal done because it was determined that anything later would sacrifice preseason time.  Considering that every week of the preseason represents about 200 million dollars to the league, only major disagreements on revenue splitting would keep the negotiations going past mid July and losing that money.

Even though the July 15 deadline has been there all along, all parties were smart to not call attention to it.  Now the players and owners, who have been riding a swell of public due to reports of positive development, will look like heroes for saving a season that really wasn’t ever in jeopardy.  Brilliant.

As anyone who has had a near death experience will tell you, nothing makes you appreciate life more than almost losing it.  This lockout is very similar to NFL fans.  One group hardly noticed it because its duration was in the offseason, and the other group feels like something that happens every year is a gift this time around.

There might be some residual effects such as lost advertising or the rare, bitter fan who let a business negotiation that didn’t cost any games drive them away, but for the most part it’s safe to say that at the very least the lockout has not negatively impacted the league.

Only the NFL could hold a work stoppage, however, and actually create more excitement about the league. I have to admit that even though I am aware of this phenomenon, I am practically giddy over a possible resolution.  This excitement far outweighs the normal excitement level for July 15 of any other year.

Feel differently or have an additional thought?  Let me know either in the comments or on Twitter (@JakeBRB).