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Some Fans Taking Knee

By: Darrin Duber-Smith


It seems like the music never stops when it comes to the NFL these days. In a significant move involving strategic alliances, the National Football League announced a partnership with Facebook to deliver NFL video content to users. Official highlights, game recaps, and other compartmentalized snippets from all NFL games will be available starting this week, vastly expanding the NFL's reach among so-called "cord-cutters", who do not subscribe to Paid TV. This is good news for a league beleaguered by controversy.


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And now back to your regularly scheduled controversy. After suffering an eight percent drop in viewership last season, the league blamed consumer distractions caused by the election, which at the time seemed somewhat believable to just about everyone. But consumers complained of low quality games, a lack of star power, and most of all player protests. After only three weeks of the 2017 season as well as a swell of high profile protests that sparked a fairly scathing presidential tweet, the league has lost an additional 11 percent of viewers, and ticket sales are also down. This should be very disturbing.


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It's become so controversial that Direct TV is offering refunds for fans who want to cancel the once-exalted NFL Sunday Ticket package if they wish to do so due to the protests during the national anthem. Usually, the company doesn't let fans cancel after a season has begun, but in this case it has made an exception. Indeed, after years of player off-the-field legal issues, numerous highly-publicized domestic violence incidents involving players, uneven enforcement of league regulations, increasingly longer games, an apparently widespread degenerative brain condition known as CTE, and now an unsavory mixture of politics and sport is now turning consumers away from a game that has dominated the American landscape for decades. It appears that the NFL has a very, very serious brand problem, and an increasing number of fans are taking a knee as well. What can be done?


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Your guess is as good as mine, but if the massive loss of viewers continues, the league must do something. And it could get ugly. And it won't be good for business. Or the players. Or the sponsors. Or the owners. Or the fans. Everyone loses in a worst case scenario. Can the league find a solution? But it does look like the league's franchises, after publicly supporting their players, are beginning to ask the players participating in the protests to back off. It does look like this will all blow over, but some modicum of damage has clearly been done, and the NFL continues to struggle with its image on multiple fronts. Player protests are only the latest among them.