But since the lockout started, I've more or less ignored the NFL and instead turned to baseball and other diversions. The absence of any free-agency talk or training camp reports made it easy to disconnect. And the day the lockout ended, I actually forgot to tune into "NFL Total Access" and continued my normal habit of watching baseball games.
"There is no off season," was the NFL's old slogan. Well, there was an off season this year, and I'd be willing to bet there are a number of fans like me who need a little time to reconnect with the sport. But you know what? It won't take long. A week is a lifetime in sports. As soon as the first big-name free agent signs (or does not sign), or when my team makes its first moves, I'll be right back into it.
In the end, my prediction is that nobody will care about the lockout. Sports fans have very short memories when it comes to off-the-field issues, something I've written about in the past for MediaPost's Marketing:Sports (or see Vick, Michael, if you don't believe me).
But while the fans will be ready, I wonder if all the sponsors will be. The problem for sponsors is that they need to commit many months in advance to things like NFL-themed packaging, retail promotions, experiential activations, free-standing inserts, etc. The uncertainty around the lockout has meant that sponsors really only had two choices:
1.) Hope for the best and go forward with planning promotions that would end up being wasted, if the season had been postponed or cancelled.
2.) Run other types of promotions away from the NFL.
As the season now moves forward, undoubtedly we will find sponsors in both camps.
In the end, any lost promotional activity is bad news for the NFL since those sponsors are partly responsible for the NFL's current status as America's top sport. Where do we see the NFL shield most often? Primarily at stores on cans of Bud Light or Pepsi, or in ads for Head and Shoulders or GMC. In an AP article written just last Tuesday, other team and league sponsors acknowledged that, while they were delayed with regards to beginning NFL-related promotions, they have also been flexible. Why? The opportunity the NFL provides with regards to engagement with the fans/consumers.
I know I'll be ready for the season when opening day comes -- my Patriots season tickets at Gillette stadium finally came through -- but will Gillette and the other NFL sponsors be as ready? We'll find out in September (which for football fans, can't come soon enough).