After last night’s debacle in Seattle, riled-up commentators and fans are calling for a boycott of the league until the referee lockout is ended. (Boycott the NFL Now!, says the Huffington Post).
It’s certainly a justifiable emotional reaction, and maybe you’re on better moral ground too. But if you think boycotting the NFL will hurt their wallets—and thus precipitate a deal—you’re wrong.
The problem is that the league has already been paid, or is contractually promised, a vast, vast majority of the revenue for games that haven’t happened yet. Consider:
(1) In December, the NFL signed a $27.9 billion deal with Fox, CBS, NBC through 2022. They already have contracts locked in with ESPN and DirecTV. So they’re getting that money. The networks have already agreed to pay the NFL for the right to air football, and they plan to compensate themselves by selling advertisements during the games —so a fan boycott of the broadcasts would only hurt the networks. And that’s if they haven’t already sold most of the ads at pre-determined rates for this season, which they likely have.
(2) Alternately, you could not attend the games. But most NFL franchises have already sold out the season, and thanks to revenue sharing, that money supports the ones who haven’t. Moreover, even if a team hasn’t sold out their home games yet, they’ve got to be pretty close. Most stadiums are majority-season ticket holders: in Carolina, for example, season tickets take up all but 7,000 of the 73,000 seats. So that money’s locked in too. The ones really hurt by game-day boycotts would be the low-wage vendors in and around the stadium who depend on those eight Sundays of the year to generate sales.
Those are the two main ways fans can boycott the league, and neither would be effective. There are other revenue streams, like merchandise, but that’s not too vulnerable to this momentary fan unrest. Nobody buys a jersey every week.
I would actually argue that, aside from being impotent, a boycott actually helps the league. The main thing forcing the NFL into bargaining now is the embarrassment of what’s happening on the field. They’d probably prefer you don’t actually watch.