What are we going to watch if there’s no NFL in 2011-12? A possible Plan B…

The second-biggest topic of discussion in American pro football circles these days (right after the Super Bowl) is what’s in store for next season. More specifically, will there be a next season?

In case you haven’t been paying attention, the owners are set to lock out the players and the two sides don’t seem terribly close to a new collective bargaining agreement. The commish is frustrated. The union has declared “war.” And the fans … well, I think most fans are sitting around thinking to themselves that the league can’t possibly be that dumb, can they? (It should be noted that the looming debacle is mainly the fault of the owners, who aren’t satisfied merely having most of the money. So we’ll have no talk about “the union and the owners.”)

If we don’t have a 2011-12 season, what are sports fans going to do? Watch bowling? Poker? Hmmm. If they’re smart, the NCAA will shift some games to Sunday to capitalize on the void, and that would be a good time.

I’ll tell you who else ought to be thinking about striding purposefully into that Sunday/Monday night vacuum: the English Premier League. For the uninitiated, the EPL is England’s top soccer flight, and it’s widely regarded as the best league in the world (yeah, a lot of Spaniards will argue this, but at best they’re tied for top honors). If you watched the World Cup last summer, a lot of those top international stars play club ball in the EPL.

Before we go any further, I know that there are some of you feeling a dire need to make sure the rest of us understand how boring soccer is not a real sport wusses French cheese-eaters nobody ever scores I’ll never watch soccer goddamned ESPN shoving that crap down our throats blah blah I’m a real man blah blah blarg…. Yes. We get it. You don’t like soccer. Thank you for offering your opinion.

Now, where was I?

I get that for many American football fans, Euro soccer (even very good Euro soccer) isn’t an acceptable substitute. I get that soccer isn’t going to be #1 in the US anytime soon, if ever. I understand that even a top EPL game wouldn’t draw anywhere near the ratings you’d get from a mid-season Steelers/Ravens slobberknocker. But this isn’t about replacing American football – it’s merely about providing sports enthusiasts with some alternatives while they’re waiting for the rich people to divvy up our money.

Soccer is, like it or not, increasing in viewer popularity here in the US.

ESPN has EPL broadcast rights both here and in the UK, so you can see where I’m heading: If it looks like the NFL is going to shut down next year, it makes sense for ESPN and the Premier League to have some serious talks about how they can provide alternate programming for an American audience that’s more interested in top-tier soccer than at any point in history. The sooner the planning begins, the better.

Unfortunately, the time difference tricks up the logistics. England is five hours ahead of the US East Coast, so the EPL would have to move start times back. Still, a Sunday night kick at 6pm local time would work fine as a replacement for the usual NFL early game, which kicks off at 1pm EST. I’m not sure how a 9pm London start time would go over for the Brits, but you could at least fill one Sunday slot, maybe two if you go with 11am and 2pm East Coast starts. Replacing Monday Night Football would be more difficult – would audiences who care enough about the EPL to follow it watch tape-delay? Maybe not.

I’m not proposing not a magic bullet solution by any stretch, and let’s be clear – the best solution is for the NFL’s owners to extract their heads from their asses and agree to a new CBA that the players can live with. Failing that, though, the NFL is currently swinging open a potential door of opportunity. It makes sense for ABC/ESPN to investigate a Plan B that will appeal to more viewers than the One-A-Day Earl Anthony Memorial Classic.

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  1. Lex
    Posted January 24, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    Sure, why not. And while we’re at it, how about rugby?

    Me, i’d like to the German Touring Car Series and maybe World Rally Championship races but these are strictly verboten as they involve turning right.

  2. Posted January 24, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    I’d be good with rugby. And Australian Rules, too.

  3. Jacob
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Or the ufl or something… Arena fooball idk

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