CHARLOTTE, NC: Any number of media outlets have noticed a continued erosion of fan support for the NFL this season. The question is whether the empty seats are an accurate representation of fan loyalty or if the problem is as pervasive as reports say it is. Some media outlets claim that professional football is in a financial free-fall. Others say the status of the NFL’s product has become so damaged that it is irreversible.
Being “irreversible” may be overkill. Remember the heavyweight championship fights during the Ali/Frazier era? How many “fights of the century” were there?
More recently what about the Brett Kavanaugh fiasco? How quickly we seem to have forgotten how devastating the confirmation process had been to his life that he would never regain his reputation.
In other words, “never say never.”
Still the NFL is struggling but to what degree and why?
The most obvious place to look first is the original Colin Kaepernick protest when he refused to stand for the National Anthem. That move went viral and the league has yet to recover.
Even efforts by coaching staffs to wear military green jackets during games is being perceived as a token gesture contrived to regain lost patrons. Let’s face it, the fans know they are being duped and they have no intention of yielding to phony symbolism.
Adding to the NFL’s image problem is the fact that million dollar athletes are protesting with “in your face” attitudes that stick in the craw of middle-class fans who struggle all week to earn enough money for a ticket, only to be told how to think.
When The Daily Caller asked Tennessee Titans wide receiver, Rishard Matthews, if he would stand for the anthem he tweeted, “No I will be done playing football.”
Matthews later deleted the message, but in the world of social media his action was too little too late.
Is it Roger Goodell’s fault?
Certainly, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is heavily responsible for his league’s inept handling of the situation. Each day the controversy continues. And more and more people wonder how a multi-billion dollar business could have such a deeply penetrating disconnect with its fan base.
Certainly, the empty seats are being noticed, but there is another aspect of those vacant spots that must be addressed. How many of those empty seats have already been sold to no-show fans?
If there are 10,000 seats in the stadium with nobody in them, it does not mean the tickets were not sold. Therefore, ticket revenues are probably not nearly as dramatically impacted as the vacated seats might indicate.
Could it be that fans have grown weary of fighting insane traffic jams, masses of people, high priced concessions and lousy winter weather? That instead they are watching games at home where restrooms are less than a commercial break away and food is always at hand?
Football viewership down in sports bars as well
The corollary to that, however, is that sports bars are reporting smaller and smaller Sunday afternoon and evening crowds. At one time rowdy robust football fans used to gather in large numbers to revel in the weekly pugilistic gridiron battles.
Another indicator which could be more telling than empty seats is merchandise sales. A significant drop-off in team paraphernalia is likely a key factor in telling owners that fans are no longer interested in their on-field product.
Add in a lesser considered culprit called saturation and you have a solid recipe for disaster. In its day, Monday Night Football was a stroke of genius. After starting the week with a long day at work, there was nothing better to complete the night than propping up your feet with a beer to watch a pro football game on Monday Night.
With the advent of ESPN, the NFL network, access to virtually every game on every Sunday as well as Thursday night games added to the Monday night game of the week, there is only so much a fan can absorb.
Impact of Fantasy Football Leagues
Certainly, fantasy football leagues have created greater interest among many previously disinterested sideline observers, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into putting fan fannies into seats.
Other smaller culprits that could be contributing to declining NFL revenues are too many rules and video protests on referee’s calls along with excessive commercial breaks that noticeably slow the pace of the games, especially for patrons at the stadium. Or maybe its the availability of cheap, 70″ flat screen TVs that are keeping viewers home.
Professional football’s corporate business plan to alienate 50% of its fan base may go down as one of the dumbest decisions in the annals of American business enterprise.
Football will survive
The game will survive. Everything is cyclical. But the Golden Age of the NFL may be a thing of the past.
In the final analysis, instead of players taking a knee, it may be owners who are going down on both knees to plea to their fans to return.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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