(Wall Street Journal) — With a possible lockout of National Football League players looming, cable and broadcast companies are girding themselves for the loss of games at a time when the NFL has become one of the most important brands on television. A lockout would starve the networks of a crucial way to attract large numbers of viewers as audiences have grown fragmented. Networks also count on football to draw viewers and advertisers to their broader programming slate.
“It’s a fluid situation but it’s clear that with any lockout the networks are going to lose a lot of eyeballs,” said Michael Nathanson, a media analyst for Nomura Securities. The standoff between NFL owners and the league’s players is especially threatening to the league’s TV partners because record numbers of viewers are tuning in to watch football—and tuning out other programming. For the second year in a row, the Super Bowl smashed records to become the most-watched telecast in U.S. history. About 111 million people watched the game on Fox Broadcasting, according to Nielsen Co. (News Corp., which operates Fox, also owns The Wall Street Journal).