The National Football League announced recently that its season ticket sales for the upcoming season are ahead of the pace set a year ago....

The National Football League announced recently that its season ticket sales for the upcoming season are ahead of the pace set a year ago. Just imagine how hot tickets would be if the 2011 season was actually guaranteed to be played.

The NFL, of course, is in the throes of a lockout that began March 11 — just hours after the players union officially decertified — and could drag on and cost the league all of the summer training camp and at least a handful of regular season games. However, a glimmer of hope appeared today, Thursday, June 2, when mediation in Minneapolis between the two parties was cancelled because the federal court involved with the players and owners is involved in confidential settlement talks aimed at settling the labor dispute and getting players back on the field.

That ticket sales would actually increase in advance of a season that may be shortened at best would seem to be a bit odd, but the Sports Business Journal reported this week that the improvement is a result of most teams selling tickets earlier than usual in anticipation of the lockout.

There might also be more than a hint of desperation driving teams to sell as many season tickets as possible: According to the NFL’s figures, the league would lose $350 million in revenue if the lockout drags into early August — i.e. the start of the preseason schedule — and $1 billion if the start of the season is delayed.

Almost as importantly, as the Sports Business Journal noted, NFL officials admitted in January that it is much more difficult to get new season ticket holders than it is to retain current ones. One such example that can be found in Tampa Bay, where the Buccaneers, who had a season ticket waiting list of almost 100,000 after they won the Super Bowl following the 2002 season but didn’t sell out a single game last season even though they went 10-6.

Teams that have to work doubly hard to regain lost season ticket holders also have less margin for error, especially this spring and summer. While traditionally popular teams such as the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins are reportedly selling tickets around the same pace as last season, the Jacksonville Jaguars are 10 percent behind. Jaguars chief financial officer Bill Prescott told the Sports Business Journal part of the troubles stem from redoubling their efforts last year, when the Jaguars were coming off a season in which they sold out just one game. The Jaguars sold out every game last season at 67,164-seat EverBank Field.

Pessimism over the likelihood of the season beginning on time has grown since April 29, when the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Minneapolis reinstated the lockout four days after U.S. District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson granted the players’ motion for a preliminary lockout. That led to a two-day end to the lockout, which allowed some teams to get playbooks to their draft picks. Before today, the last four-plus weeks had been filled with inactivity, to the point that Cris Collinsworth — the analyst on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” — agreed to help coach his son’s high school football team because he expects at least half the regular season to be wiped out by the lockout.