Here's a question: if the NFL players and owners can't come to an agreement and there actually is a lockout, is that good for the sport of mixed martial arts? Is it good for the UFC as much as it is Bellator or Strikeforce? Or does the lockout really even matter for any of the MMA brands?
Generally, I'd say, yes, a NFL lockout is good for MMA.
Call it the Sarah Kaufman Effect. Kaufman, during the summer of 2010 the Strikeforce 135lbs women's champion, was upset that her title defense against Roxanne Modaferri was the semi-main event. The main event? A non-title three-round heavyweight tilt between Shane del Rosario and Lolohea Mahe. Not exactly a thrilling or particularly meaningful fight to place ahead of a title defense.
Kaufman went public about her displeasure of her fight's placement on the Strikeforce Challenger's card. She called it unfair and said the move undermined her title as well as women's MMA generally. She didn't say it once, but over and over again.
Kaufman not only wound up defending her title, but winning in spectacular fashion as she Rampage-Arona'd Modaferri to the canvas. Her devastating finish earned her a spot on ESPN's rotation of sporting highlights. Media going into the event picked up on her brash proclamations and gave her top billing post-fight. It also added a little heft to her argument that Strikeforce has misappropriated their resources.
All of that is to say the following: small players, in the absence of big players and the impenetrable architecture of barriers around them, can do wonders to raise their stock.
The NFL lockout itself as a story will get top billing in local, regional and national media. Yet, that's simply one story. A single story, even one of that magnitude, cannot possibly compete with a normal Sunday weekend during football season. Each team in each market in the week leading up to every game is dissected, talked about, reported on, investigated and generally the focal point of news coverage. On Sunday, they combine to create a maelstrom of dominating sports headlines that pushes out the rest of the sporting universe.
The absence of that - provided the lockout goes far enough - can only be good for MMA. Sports fans looking to cure boredom or find an alternative are more likely to give MMA a first or second look. Admittedly, a prolonged lockout will have a more pronounced and measurable effect on individual MMA sporting events rather than some vague concept of MMA generally. But that's still a net boon even if the attention is fleeting and the fans resume most of their previous biases upon the end of the lockout.
Will it do as much for Bellator or Strikeforce as the UFC? That's probably reaching, although anything is possible. Strikeforce has been known to make national sporting headlines when Herschel Walker or Gina Carano compete. In the absence of football games, larger Strikeforce events might hang around headlines in widgets above the fold a little longer in digital media. For Bellator, I doubt this will matter much, if at all.
This situation is not akin to previous union-owner disputes in other sports leagues where players were viewed as greedy millionaires with insatiable appetites for guaranteed contracts. Much of the talk this time around even among casual observers in the untenability of the positions of the team owners. Don't expect UFC fighters to look good in contrast to football players. And don't expect the UFC's contract arrangements to come across as superior models of negotiated business.
I don't really have a dog in this fight. I generally side with the players, but I'm neither for nor against a lockout. I'd also rather MMA grow without moments like this where the benefit is distinct but in the long run insignificant. Yet, I can't deny my curiosity. If there's no lockout, this is all for naught. But if there is, I will be paying close attention to how this affects coverage of MMA. Maybe I'm exaggerating the effect it will have...or maybe this is exactly the moment the UFC needs to take their brand to the next step in its evolution. Either way, I'm paying attention to football headlines now more than ever.