With news that the deadline for talks between the players and owners has been extended, many followers of the pending NFL lockout are now hopeful. Unfortunately, nothing is finalized until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached, and until that time, the future of the NFL is on shaky ground.
It is with this in mind that the Washington Post ran a great article today asking two related questions: if the lockout becomes a reality, which sports will see an increase in viewership and will any sports rearrange their fall schedules to pick up the coveted Sunday market?
Some experts think the response from fans will actually cause interest to dip, while most think that an NFL lockout would mean increased viewership for everybody. Consider baseball's sagging postseason numbers:
Ratings for two of the past three World Series (the Giants-Rangers in 2010 and Phillies-Rays in 2008) reached historic lows, about 50 percent below what was typical throughout the 1990s. And because playoff schedules are not yet set, Major League Baseball could target vacant Sunday afternoons for key games.
Similarly, the Washington Post argues, college football could see an increase in its already extremely strong audience:
Others say college football would benefit most, as fans desperate for a fix shift their attention to Saturdays, or opportunistic schools or conferences move their games to Sunday afternoons. During the 1982 strike, the networks aired some Division III contests.
"The importance now shifts to college football," said Wayne McDonnell, Jr., a former Madison Square Garden executive and sports management professor at New York University. "Nothing is going to replace the NFL, but college football is pretty close . . . I wouldn't be a bit surprised, if the NFL can't get its act together, for college football to try to take advantage in a lot of ways."
Since the future of the NFL is still in jeopardy, no one in the college football world wants to come out and say "Yes, we'll move our games to Sunday to fill the football fans' need." However, at least a couple of conferences have said that there have been no "formal discussions" on the topic, hinting at the idea that there may have been informal discussions, behind closed doors.
While all of this seems like a potential boon for other sports, who could move in and steal some of the NFL viewership, it is a risky business, as Yahoo! Sports college football blogger Dr. Saturday points out:
It would also be a risk for any teams or conferences that decided to try, when the NFL can essentially say "game on" at any point. (The player strikes in 1982 and 1987 both threatened the regular season, with far, far less money at stake, but the show eventually went on in both cases.)
Don't expect to see any radical changes anytime soon, but this is certainly something on the mind of the executives of the other major sports leagues.