The National Football League was the nation’s most divisive organization in 2017.
Colin Kaepernick’s controversial National Anthem protests started in 2016, but the NFL failed to properly handle the issue at the time, despite polling that showed 44% of fans would stop watching the games if the protest continued. Inexplicably, the league allowed the protests to become institutionalized and a major storyline of the 2017 season leading to disastrous results for the bottom line.
Viewership ratings for Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season were down 13% compared to the previous year and by Week 2, analysts were predicting a loss of $200 million in advertising earnings if the trend continued through the rest of the season.
With fans tuning out in droves, advertisers and companies that do business with the NFL were clearly nervous. For example, DirecTV began offering customers refunds for the premium out-of-market game package to fans who complained about the protests. Anheuser-Busch established a customer service hotline to exclusively handle customers’ opinions on the company’s advertising relationship with the league. Later in the season, Papa John’s, the official pizza of the NFL, announced their future advertising would disassociate from the league’s brand.
In October, 2ndVote uncovered a direct financial relationship between the NFL Players Association and George Soros-founded activist groups that had been involved in anti-Trump “resistance” protests. The NFLPA is an AFL-CIO affiliated union and receives financial support from many of the NFL’s top sponsors.
Fan disgust with the protest and the social agenda culminated in a social-media driven boycott movement for the games over Veterans Day weekend. Millions decided to #StandwithVets and ratings for every broadcast slot fell that weekend hitting lows not seen since 2003.
Yet, NFL leadership failed to heed the warning signs and the direct pleas from advertisers to get the protests under control. An NBCUniversal advertising executive relayed a message these sponsors had for the networks covering the games which said, “We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it.”
A last ditch “Hail Mary” of a concession to the players in November had all the hallmarks of a shakedown. The NFL and team owners pledged nearly $100 million to various “social justice” causes, a portion of which will go to 501(c)4 activities and is especially concerning because of the NFLPA’s prior history with Soros-aligned groups.
Recent consumer surveys indicating the NFL is the most unpopular brand among major American sports organizations come as no surprise. After all, just like the loss of subscriptions experienced by ESPN, sports fans want to escape debates over cultural issues when it comes to sports. Unfortunately, the NFL and its players have failed to understand that.
We hope you enjoyed these reviews of our coverage from the previous year. Be sure to read our previous posts recapping what happened with Patagonia, Target, and ESPN in 2017 and sign up for our newsletter to receive this content directly to your inbox.