Looking past the national anthem protests, the National Football League’s (NFL) plummeting ratings have been blamed by many on the presidential election, but one year later, past the mid-season mark, critics point out that a post-election bounce in the ratings is highly unlikely.
With this weekend’s games kicking off the second half of the season, NBC's Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio warns that the NFL cannot count on the second-half season bounce it enjoyed last year after Americans stopped tuning in to election coverage. In fact, he expects that the league’s already sinking ratings will continue to drop this season.
“With the final eight weeks of the regular season beginning tonight, there’s no reason to think this year’s troubling trend will change, because there’s no reason for people to return to following football after the various debates and town halls and other political shows and specials that sucked people away from watching football before November 8, 2016,” Florio explained in an NBC report. “And with, as Darren Rovell of ESPN noted on Wednesday, total ratings are down 5.5 percent through the first nine weeks of 2017 in comparison to the first nine weeks of 2016, the absence of a post-election bounce means the gap is about to get bigger.”
Will the NFL do anything?
With many conservatives arguing that the reason for the NFL’s ratings drop is a no-brainer – the league’s refusal to stop players from dishonoring the flag, troops and nation by kneeling and holding up fists during the national anthem – Florio remains perplexed as to what the league’s executives must do to avoid the downward spiral of their ratings.
“It’s unclear what the NFL can do on the fly to avoid that – it’s unclear whether the NFL is trying to,” Florio conceded. “One solution would be the aggressive use of flexing to ensure that the best games will be played in the biggest Sunday spots, rules that limited flexibility be damned.”
He believes that the NFL has to come to grips with the fact that Americans are no longer gravitating toward professional football like they used to – and understand that if it doesn’t do something fast, the franchise will be in deep trouble.
“Creativity will be needed to fix this one, and it needs to be applied not after the season ends, but in real time,” the football analyst insisted. “For a league that has grown accustomed to smooth sailing and ever-rising numbers, there may be no mechanism in place for dealing with this kind of crisis. There should be; otherwise, the other kinds of crises the league is confronting will continue to take precedence.”
Doing nothing ….
Even though the conservative media concedes that a number of factors go into falling ratings – including sports fans’ increasing unwillingness to commit their entire Sunday to NFL matchups and the fact that Americans are simply watching less TV these days – it is stressed that the NFL is greatly responsible for its own demise in refusing to address patriotic fans’ repulsion toward players’ flagrant disrespect for the nation and the flag before every game beside the gridiron.
“The anthem protests, which Papa John’s John Schnatter rightfully observed should have been ‘nipped in the bud’ from the beginning, certainly can’t be considered a problem beyond the NFL’s control,” Breitbart reported.
Other things within its control were also mentioned.
“The increase in penalties, which stalls momentum and elongates games, certainly isn’t something beyond the NFL’s control,” Breitbart’s Dylan Gwinn contended. “And the fact that offseason workout and practice regimens have become so limited and watered down that players aren’t prepared for the start of the season; and consequently, don’t start playing well until about Week 10, is also something not beyond the NFL’s control.”
However, the NFL is choosing to believe that it does not have to proactively do anything at all to stay afloat – an overconfidence and haughtiness that is often shows it face before a ship sinks.
“Could the NFL arrest their ratings descent in one fell swoop?” Gwinn asked. “No. However, they could open a large parachute which would greatly slow their descent while they figure out the market factors that have threatened their business model – they simply refuse to do it.”
NFL: Papa don’t preach
The NFL was not happy to hear one of its biggest sponsors – Papa John’s – urging it to properly address the national anthem controversy in order to fix the rating decline that the pizza giant’s executives blame for their 15-percent drop in business. If things do not change, Papa John’s executives threaten that they could end their corporate partnership with the NFL.
“The Kentucky-based pizza chain remains adamant that the NFL’s mishandling of its business challenges negatively impacted sales this year, due in large part to Papa John’s heavy investment in marketing to drive business on fall and winter NFL Sundays,” Fox Business reported. “While executives say Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter’s criticism of ‘poor leadership’ among NFL officials was not meant to indicate he was taking a side in the ongoing national anthem debate, the company doubled down on its stance that change is necessary.”
Papa John’s President and COO Steve Ritchie avoided taking a political stance on the anthem controversy, but stressed that the NFL has to do something – and fast – to end the financial freefall.
“Those things got mischaracterized and misconstrued, that Papa John’s has some sort of a position politically on the protests – we have no position,” Ritchie told FOX Business on Wednesday. “Our only position is that we want the NFL to improve. … I think it’s fair to say that clearly some things need to change for the relationship to be mutually successful moving forward.”
The NFL’s 5.5-percent ratings drop after the first nine weeks – while the anthem protests still linger – cannot be ignored.
“The company cited the NFL’s struggles when it lowered its sales guidance for the rest of the fiscal year earlier this month,” Fox Business’ Thomas Barrabi informed. “At the time, Schnatter told analysts on an earnings call that the league’s failure to resolve ‘the current debacle to the players’ and owners’ satisfaction’ has ‘hurt Papa John’s shareholders.’”
Those on the left believe that Papa John’s is out of line assuming that the NFL’s (and their own) financial woes are a direct result of the anthem protests.
“Critics ripped Papa John’s for failing to provide adequate proof that the NFL was responsible for its sales struggles,” Barrabi noted. “The company’s stock is down roughly 15 percent since its Nov. 1 results.”
Heads at the pizza giant maintain that their assertion about the reason for their declining business is based on solid analysis.
“However, Papa John’s executives say they reached their determination based on solid data,” Barribi added. “During the early stages of the NFL season, an analysis of email open rates, website traffic, online orders and A/B testing on NFL-related marketing campaigns showed that Papa John’s NFL sponsorship was having a negative impact on consumer engagement, according to Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten.”
Rhoten justified his blame of the NFL for his company’s plummeting sales.
“We have very detailed information that tells us what is aiding and what’s not aiding our sales, and the picture was very clear,” Rhoten assured, according to Fox Business.
Papa John’s has seen enough of its dwindling profits due to the alleged mismanagement of the NFL, and that business relationship could change soon if the league does not do anything to make things right.
“The company has also tracked a decline in Sunday pizza sales during the NFL season in both 2017 and 2016, which coincides with the league’s viewership decline,” Barribi emphasized. “Officials did not provide a percentage for the sales decline, but said Sundays had seen ‘improving performance’ in the earlier years of its NFL partnership, which began in 2010. Papa John’s executives also would not say how much of their marketing budget is tied to the NFL, though Rhoten confirmed it composes ‘the majority’ of their fall and winter spending.”