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Business booming after NFL lockout ends

| Tuesday, July 26, 2011

NEW YORK -- Minutes after NFL players approved a deal to end the lockout, the boisterous voice of coach Rex Ryan was booming in the phone lines of Jets season ticket holders.

Monday's agreement meant relief for anybody involved with the business of pro football -- and a sudden scramble to sell tickets, hawk merchandise and launch promotions.

The Detroit Lions had four to five times the number of calls and sales as a typical Monday. By late afternoon, the Tennessee Titans had emailed fans offering $20 off official player jerseys to "celebrate" football's return.

Fans already had started to call the Kansas City Chiefs about tickets when the owners announced last week that they had approved the deal. The same happened in Miami.

"We had a lot of optimism in the air, and phones have been lighting up for the last 7-10 days," Dolphins CEO Mike Dee said. "We had our best new sales week last week -- we sold over 300 new season tickets last week alone. Clearly fans were getting re-energized about football."

New sales of Dolphins season tickets had been at 40 percent of normal levels.

"There was a tremendous amount of negative energy for a while around the work stoppage," Dee said. "In recent weeks I think we've seen it already begin to turn. I think we'll be able to play catch-up here."

The Jets sent an email from owner Woody Johnson and a 35-second video from Ryan to all season ticket holders, suite holders, fans and corporate partners announcing the owners and players had a deal.

A 40-second recorded voice message from Ryan also was sent to all Jets season ticket holders, with the brash coach telling fans: "I need you in those seats, and let's have at it."

It's too late for the fantasy football publishers who had to cancel their magazines because of the labor uncertainty. But the 10-year deal is a huge relief for the industry, with the assurance this won't happen again for at least another decade.

Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, predicts a lot of hiring in the coming days. For most fantasy sports companies, at least three-quarters of revenue comes from football.

For his company, LeagueSafe -- which lets fantasy owners pay league fees online -- web traffic was up 800 percent yesterday from the previous day.

Bridgestone renewed its sponsorship with the NFL last summer even with the threat of a lockout looming. The diverse demographics and loyalty of the league's fans were just too attractive to the tire company.

Still, the end of the lockout came as very happy news.

"Our driving force with the National Football League is to be able to talk to consumers and talk to football fans," said Phil Pacsi, vice president of consumer marketing, U.S. and Canada, for Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations.

Most of Bridgestone's NFL promotions take place late in the season because it sponsors the Super Bowl halftime show, so the company has been less affected by the lockout than other corporate partners. Still, it held off on making some decisions until a deal was reached.

"A lot of our timing has just been delayed," Pacsi said. "Now we'll kick things into full gear."

Vikings sponsor Miller Lite normally would set up promotional materials in the stadium and in stores. Just as the team waited to decide whether to hold training camp in Mankato, Minn., the beer company was flexible, too.

Miller execs "pushed and pushed to a point where now they're ready to go," Vikings VP of sales and marketing Steve LaCroix said. "A lot of sponsors are going to reach a decision fairly soon on what they had to do for the season or not to. Everyone has been very accommodating."

The Dolphins and Jets decided to pay back wages that employees lost in pay cuts and furloughs because of the lockout.

At the Patriots Pro Shop, Mark Lazaruk was helping the NFL's bottom line by buying two shirts and a cap. The 37-year-old from outside Toronto knows firsthand how sports labor stoppages can squeeze businesses.

He owned a sports clothing store that closed because of the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season.

"We just never recovered," he said. "It's a huge trickle-down effect."

He now is a franchisee of a mechanical repair shop.

"The seller said it was recession-proof," he said. "I told him 'as long as it's lockout-proof.' "

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