NFL Says It Has A Solution For Kneelers. Penalize Them. What Does That Mean For Business?

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Some opponents of kneeling during NFL games rationalized that on-field protests politicized the sport in a way that was bad for business, and the NFL apparently agrees.

The NFL has now adopted a new policy that allows players to stay in the locker room during the pre-game performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in the hopes that will keep protesters off the field and out of the spotlight.

Violators — kneelers — could be fined. Twitter exploded accordingly.

The NFL was riddled with issues during the 2017 season, International Journalism Review reported on Feb. 1. Just one of those issues involved hundreds of NFL players protesting police brutality against unarmed Black men by kneeling on the field during the national anthem.

Fans opposed to kneeling on the field during the anthem boycotted, and ultimately, the ratings dropped, according to the report.

Players who want to join the movement Colin Kaepernick started by kneeling during the anthem can stay in the locker room, NFL owners decided at an owners’ meetings in Atlanta. The new policy states that if players are on the field during the anthem, they must stand. This is a reversal of the previous policy that made it mandatory for players to be on the field for the anthem, New York Post reported.

Kneeling during the national anthem cost Kaepernick his job as a San Francisco 49ers quarterback and turned him into a symbol of resistance and activism.

 

Overall NFL viewership was down 10 percent in the 2017 season, John McKay reported on News Talk 870 AM. Sunday Night Football was the biggest loser, dropping nearly 2.2 million viewers. Monday Night Football, which has been sliding for years and is the “weakest” of the prime-time games, dropped from 12.3 million average viewers to 10.9. Revenue fell 1.2 percent, compared with gains of 9.6 percent and 3 percent the previous two seasons.

“Much of the NFL’s business model is built on increasing their ‘brand’, spreading viewership and reeling in more money. But … the league numbers show politics and sports don’t mix very well,” McKay reported.

The NFL rejected an ad from the group American Veterans entitled “Please Stand.” The ad was considered “too political” by the NFL, prompting accusations of hypocrisy since the NFL allowed players to kneel and protest the anthem throughout the season.

Ad revenue for the 2017 season was down. Adweek reported a 10 percent drop in ratings from the previous season with ad revenue down 1.2 percent in 2017 to $2.42 billion compared with $2.45 billion in 2016.

These numbers are the complete opposite of the trend set by previous seasons. In 2014, ad revenue was $2.17 billion and jumped up 9.6 percent to $2.38 billion in 2015. Then, revenue jumped up 3 percent in 2016, coming in at $2.45 billion,” International Journalism Review reported.

Is kneeling during the anthem bad for business?

“That’s a rationalization you’ll hear from some supporters of an anthem policy,” wrote Jarrett Bell for USA Today. “Yet the same people who grumble that players are using the NFL stage to protest have no issue wrapping that same stage in patriotism — with symbols that mean different things to different people in this culturally diverse society. Like it or not, the convergence of sports and societal issues doesn’t need to go away. It needs to be accepted. If players are compelled to make a peaceful gesture on behalf of people who don’t have a voice, so be it. What’s the harm? It might even raise consciousness that could lead to positive action.”

Demographics are an important part of the story, Kaitlyn D’Onofrio wrote for Diversity Inc. Almost 70 percent of  NFL players are Black. Just 10 percent of quarterbacks are Black. Head coaches are 21.9 percent Black. There are no Black team owners.

Some NFL owners think they can simply make the problem disappear. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who has been a vocal opponent of the protests, said, “Whatever we do, let’s put the focus on what the NFL’s about and that’s playing football.”

Jets co-owner Christopher Johnson said on Wednesday that he will pay any fines his players incur as part of the league’s new policy. His players are free to protest without fear of discipline, he said, according to Sporting News.

“It’s easy for the owners to try and find a way to simply bury the controversy when it’s not their reality,” D’Onofrio wrote. “While the protests have drawn ire, they have also been a source of inspiration. Recently, a 9-year-old was kicked out of his fourth-grade classroom for kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance — a decision his mother said was inspired by Kaepernick.”

NFL kneelers
Colin Kaepernick. Facebook