It has taken a while, but the media appears ready to admit that Colin Kaepernick is killing the NFL. In an article in Yahoo Finance, Daniel Roberts states that Kaepernick’s protests “definitely impacted” the league, causing a “net negative” for ratings.
Roberts wrote of the NFL’s ratings decline, “Now recent reports suggest that one of the factors dismissed by many has in fact had a definite impact: player protests during the national anthem, led by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.”
Roberts ran through a narrative of how the NFL first claimed that the ratings dropped due to “unprecedented interest in the election,” a claim that’s grown weak in the face of post-election NFL ratings which show the league still well under last year’s numbers.
Roberts explains how counter-intuitive, yet real the “Kaepernick effect” has become. Roberts says, “At first blush it may be hard to believe a small personal act that takes place before games even begin is causing people to boycott the league. And as many outlets wrote early on, there was no hard evidence that any significant number of people were boycotting their watching of the NFL because of their outrage at the protests.”
Nonetheless, Roberts then quotes hard evidence which proves precisely that. Roberts writes, “In late October, a poll of 841 adults by phone (conducted by the Sharkey Institute at Seton Hall University) found that when asked to weigh in on seven possible contributing factors to the NFL ratings decline, 56% of respondents said “yes” to the anthem protests as a factor. The respondents were asked to respond yes or no to each factor separately, rather than rank the importance of each factor. More people said yes to the protests than any other factor; the second-highest was the distraction of the presidential election.”
Roberts continues, “Seton Hall conducted another poll the next month, and asked the question a little differently. The new findings again point to player protests. Of 913 people surveyed by phone, 23% said they are watching fewer NFL games.
“Those people were asked what the biggest reason was, and 25% said it’s the national anthem protests. The other options were too many commercials (10%), weaker matchups (10%), too many games overall (8%) and interest in the election (3%). “The anthem protest still seems to resonate most loudly,” said Rick Gentile, director of the poll.”
Yet, the evidence doesn’t only come from polling. Roberts cites analysts, even those who work with the NFL, who now see the damage that the protests have done. Roberts writes, “Elizabeth Lindsey, who works on NFL brand partnerships at Wasserman, believes the protests have been a ratings factor. “I do think some of the player protests probably offended some people,” she tells Yahoo Finance. “I can’t go as far as to say that it’s the definitive reason, but I think it would be short-sighted and dismissive to say it’s having no impact. I think it’s something people should pay attention to. It’s worthy of considering as an issue.””
Roberts concludes, “The player protests are just one of these many factors, and it’s impossible to say just how much they’re contributing to the decline—but what is clear is that they are contributing. The ratings effect of the protests is not zero—they are having a net negative effect.”
Note that this admission comes not from a sports journalist or some kind of sports talking head, but instead from a journalist who studies the business of sports. Though Roberts may not understand why “a small personal act” like kneeling for the anthem might induce mass exodus, he has done the research and nonetheless reports it as fact.
His is a far cry indeed from where the media stood a few months ago, when the mere suggestion that Kaepernick had anything to do with ratings earned you scorn and mockery. Really big stuff, just wait until they discover Putin didn’t rig the election.
Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn