The NFL is seeing the early signs of cracks in fan loyalty.
Ten weeks into the owners' lockout of the players, commissioner Roger Goodell noted Wednesday the negative effect the labor dispute is having on pro football.
"Clearly it has had an impact on the fans," Goodell said as the owners completed their spring meetings in Indianapolis. "We see it in various metrics. There's been a noticeable change; TV ratings were down on the draft roughly 4 million people. NFL.com traffic [is down], we see that."
Ticket sales also are down.
"Fans want certainty," Goodell added. "We can't underestimate that the fans are going through challenges just in the general economy."
That certainty isn't likely to come soon. Both sides have a date in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit on June 3 for hearings on the league's appeal to uphold the lockout. A decision probably won't come for several weeks, and while another set of mediation sessions is scheduled to start June 7, not much is expected from those discussions while the appeal is being considered.
NFL owners have approved rules amendments for player safety that include eliminating a player launching himself into a defenseless opponent.
The 32 owners have voted unanimously to enhance the protection of defenseless players. Anyone who leaves both feet before contact to spring forward and upward into an opponent and delivers a blow to the helmet with any part of his helmet will draw a 15-yard penalty.
Hines Ward will have surgery to repair ligament damage in his left thumb.
The Steelers wide receiver has been dealing with the injury since the end of the 2010 season.
It didn't hamper Ward during his just-completed stint on ABC's Dancing With the Stars.
Ward and partner Kym Johnson won the ballroom dancing competition Tuesday night.
GOLF: Brian Gillespie of St. Davids Golf Club fired a 4-under-par 67 to take a 2-stroke lead after the first round of the GAP Middle-Amateur Championship at Laurel Creek Country Club. Three players - Chip Lutz of LedgeRock and Michael Hyland and Ryan McCarty, both of Little Mill - were tied for second at 69.
JURISPRUDENCE: Former Michigan and NBA player Jalen Rose pleaded guilty to drunken driving, admitting he got behind the wheel after drinking six martinis.
Rose entered his plea in District Court in Oakland County's Bloomfield Hills, Mich. He faces up to 93 days in jail and a $500 fine.
SOCCER: Luke Rodgers scored in the 33d minute to cap the teams' six-minute scoring flurry and lift the New York Red Bulls to a 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids in Harrison, N.J.
Jeff Larentowicz scored twice for the Rapids (4-3-5), who had their fourth straight draw.
- Staff and wire reports