While the battle of Courtroom Football rages on, something’s happening: fans are losing interest in the NFL. NFL bloggers are figuring this out by their dwindling traffic, and their quiet commentariats—that includes little ol’ single-team fan blogs like this one, all the way up to the Grandaddy of Us All, Pro Football Talk.
Here's a graphical demonstration:
The last cycle on the graph (2010) is remarkable for a number of reasons. The April peak was much, much higher—about twice as high as the usual draft spike. The regular season interest started building earlier, climbed to 20% above usual levels, and stayed there. However, there’s a problem: after the Super Bowl, interest dipped lower than it’s ever been before the draft, and it’s not building back up to a second peak right now.
The four weeks before, and week of, the 2010 draft pulled search interest levels of 17, 18, 19, 23, and 78 last year. This year’s predraft month, it’s been 14, 14, 17, and 24—meaning, unless interest goes from 24 to 100 this week (unlikely), the draft simply isn’t moving the needle like it always does. Coming off of a record-smashing year for interest in the NFL, this looks scary—especially to bloggers like me.
My traffic for April so far has been just a quarter of it was for last April, and comments have all but disappeared. This is partly due to the Lions’ pick being later in the draft (and therefore less sexy). However, even national blogs like Pro Football Talk are feeling the pinch, too:
That said, we think it’s fair and appropriate at this point to disclose our stake in the situation. Because our overall interests are driven by site traffic (Charlie Sheen says, “duh”), we want our traffic to be higher. Right now, our traffic is lower than it would be if a lockout hadn’t happened . . .
. . . Thus, we acknowledge our bias in this regard — we want the lockout to end, quickly. Since we’d feel the same way if we were merely fans and not financially invested in the process, it won’t be affecting our opinions or our coverage in any way.
The day of the schedule release saw a flicker of interest, though, which Florio discussed with Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com. Tellingly, Florio Tweeted out:
Even with no end in sight for the lockout, the release of the schedule has made me very happy, at least for one night.
Throughout this labor negotiation, lockout, and litigation process, I’ve been warning both sides that they’re doing real, permanent damage to the NFL’s fandom. They’ve presumed not only that the NFL will maintain their unheard-of dominance over the American sports landscape, but that their stratospheric growth rate will continue unchecked—accelerate, even. Like King Midas, though, the NFL’s ability to turn everything it touches into gold may be threatening to starve it.
The lockout has taken away everything fun about the offseason, and replaced it with endless legal wrangling and PR spin. So far, most fans have responded by tuning out. Will they tune back in for the second primetime draft? Or, will the NFL not get its groove back until there is a new collective bargaining agreement? Or, will the NFL finally wane, settling back into its position as the nation’s number one sport—instead of the nation’s only sport that matters?