The NFL has a hot mess on its hands. Players knelt during the National Anthem in record numbers last weekend, an act of defiance towards President Donald J. Trump, who on September 22, called on kneeling players to be fired.
The practice of NFL player anthem kneeling was started last year by former San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick because he feels the United States “oppresses black people.”
Some football fans are clearly fed-up with this act they find disrespectful to the flag.
So NFL TV ratings continue to suffer, down 11 percent from last year according to the Nielsen Company.
The NFL’s satellite-provider, DirecTV, is letting customers cancel their subscriptions if the player anthem protests are given as the reason why.
Ticket sales will likely be hurt as well, but that hasn’t yet been quantified.
How does the NFL put out this dumpster fire?
Clearly the commissioner and owners aren’t going to call players out publicly and demand they stand. This would likely make matters worse, and create a media firestorm, vis-a-vis, the player’s 1st Amendment rights.
So the league office, and many team owners, are praising the player’s actions publicly. They don’t want to anger their rank-and-file, who they need to perform well on game day.
However, the NFL decision-makers have to be pretty unnerved by this behind the scenes. They are businessmen and women who are seeing the popularity of their wildly successful product slip appreciably. The arrow is pointing down on the NFL right now.
How do they fix this PR/business disaster that’s unfolding before our very eyes?
Perhaps the NFL’s only way out is playing the “golden goose card” behind the scenes.
In other words, make it abundantly clear to the players and their union, while they have the right to kneel, in the process they’re killing the golden goose, and it’s going to cost them a lot of money.
With lower TV ratings and likely ticket sales, there will be less salary cap money for player contracts. The NFL brass and team owners have to communicate this privately to the players.
Also, with lower ratings, the TV right’s holders will likely pay less money for future NFL contracts, which will mean less money for players down the road. The league will probably have to give financial rebates to the networks if the ratings continue to spiral downward, which will also cost the players.
Another issue for players is losing endorsements. Denver auto dealer Phil Long dropped Broncos star Von Miller from his commercials after the linebacker kneeled on Sunday. Also, some national advertisers might start bailing on the league if this continues.
And when the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2021, the players will likely take a big hit in the wallet if they continue to protest. In the next CBA negotiation, the owner’s will point to the damage the protests did financially to the sport, and thus cut the players a smaller piece of the fiscal pie. A Reuters/Ipsos poll states Fifty-eight percent of those polled say athletes “should be required to stand” during the National Anthem.
So while the NFL Players Association Chief DeMaurice Smith praises the protesting players publicly, it might behoove him to work behind the scenes to stop Anthem protests, because it could cost his rank-and-file big financially. It’s Smith’s job to make the players as much money as possible.
Smith should probably make it clear to the player union reps from each team that if these protests continue, it will likely mean smaller player contracts in the future. How would they feel about that? Probably not good.
Unless the union and players don’t care about money, and it’s more important for them to make this political stand, for whatever reason they are doing it.
But usually money talks.