If there is an NFL lockout this season, it probably won’t have the same effect as the 1994 baseball strike, says marketing expert Adam Hanft, president and CEO of Hanft Projects, whose clients include Time Warner, AOL, Viacom and AT&T Wireless.
“Baseball fans are different from football fans,” said Hanft in a telephone interview. “Baseball fans are into numbers and statistics, and a strike upsets them because it messes with the numbers. Football fans don’t care so much about the numbers. They just want to see the games.”
That jibes with my own experience. Baseball fans — and writers — are very upset at the thought of steroids in baseball because they think sluggers who use steroids are affecting season and career marks. Baseball fans can readily tell you how many homers Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth hit, for instance.
Football is probably the sport most affected by steroids because players greatly increase size and strength, which is a factor in the increasing amount of concussions.
Yet, football fans don’t seem to care, and football writers seldom address the issue. And, though Jerry Rice holds all the significant pass-receiving numbers, even 49ers fans would find it difficult to say what those numbers are.
There is another significant difference between the 1994 baseball strike and what may happen this fall: The ’94 strike canceled the World Series. “The owners and Players’ Association were on a collision course,” notes Hanft. “It took baseball four years to recover from that.”
Hanft admits that it’s difficult to predict how fans will react in the event of an NFL lockout this fall. “You can draw up surveys, but the answers you get today might not be the ones you get the next time you ask the questions,” he said. “My sense is that the fans aren’t really picking sides in this. They just want the games to be played.”
There is another significant event that has occurred since the baseball strike. “The whole social network has grown up,” said Hanft. “Now, fans can contact players directly through Twitter or Facebook. We don’t know yet what impact that will have.”
Frankly, though, I’d be surprised if that translates into more support for players. My experience has been that fans think players are overpaid, though they never blink at the enormous amounts of money top movie stars can command. Why this disconnect? Probably because many fans played the games when they were young — and some dreamed of playing them professionally — but few acted in school plays.
The NFL had three strikes in the ’70s and ’80s. The most relevant came in 1987.
After two games, the NFLPA called a strike. The NFL fielded replacement teams, and when regular players started to come back, the union called off the strike after three games.
Something like that may happen this year. “If it does, there could be any number of stories,” noted Hanft. “It may be that there will be replacement players who are good enough to stay with teams, and that will be the story.”
Get ready for it. The owners are determined and they have the leverage. Let’s just hope it’s no longer than three games.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.