Jayson Braddock noted the positive impact that an NFL lockout could have on the United Football League (UFL) in an article published on March 10. Jayson notes that the league, which began play in 2009, could gain a larger viewership as would-be NFL fans feel that football craving return in the fall and do what they can to satisfy their yearning. He also mentions the possibility that a few NFL players ply their trade in the UFL, as some younger players or those making the league minimum could look at the UFL as a way to supplement their income through the lockout. But the UFL isn't the only level of football that could benefit from an NFL lockout.
College football is more popular than the NFL in some parts of the country, and without the NFL, football-starved fans would likely turn to college football. The south, where the SEC rules, likely won't see much of a shift in fan base, but areas without a large college football following like the northeast could begin to see a larger shift to the college game. Devotion to the Boston College Eagles, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Syracuse Orange, etc. won't rival commitment to the New York Jets, New York Giants or New England Patriots, but the college game would only benefit without the country's most popular sport to compete with every weekend.
Jayson mentions in his article that the UFL, which plays its games on Sunday before the NFL season begins, could stick to playing games on Sundays throughout their season if the NFL does not take the field in 2011. What will be interesting is whether college football begins to schedule games on Sundays and Mondays, two days that the NFL typically owns. The Boise State Broncos and Virginia Tech Hokie squared off on Labor Day last season, and some pretty memorable Miami Hurricanes / Florida State Seminoles games have taken place on Labor Day as well. We could begin to see college games played regularly on Sundays and Monday nights if the NFL lockout extends into the season as college football looks to take advantage of vacant air time typically dedicated to the NFL.
It's hard to say whether college football would sustain any increased viewership once the NFL returns, or how much of a hit the NFL's viewership would take following a lockout. The league has certainly rebounded from the 1987 player strike, but how long would it take the NFL to regain the momentum it's built this decade if the whole season, or part of it, is lost in 2011?
Major League Baseball didn't get going again following its 1994-95 player strike until Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made history in 1998 (however tainted that homerun race may be). The NBA didn't fully recover from its 1998-99 lockout and subsequent 50-game shortened season until the draft class of 2003 gave the league some fresh superstars. The NHL missed the 2004-05 season due to a lockout and is still struggling to convince fans to come back.
Diehards will always be there, but casual fans or sports fans in general tend to lose interest following an interruption in regular play. The NFL possesses more diehard fans than any American sport, but the impact of the lockout could nevertheless be evident. Would the NFL experience a drop-off in fan interest if the 2011 season is lost or shortened? That's something that we should be able to better gauge in the summer as we get a sense of how this is going to play out. One thing is an almost-certainty, though: college football would be the biggest beneficiary of an NFL lockout.
Danny Hobrock, a sports journalist covering NCAA Football and MLB is the editor of our college football content. His work for Xtra Point Football has garnered national attention and is critically acclaimed. You may email Danny directly @ email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @ DannyHobrock
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