To Live and Die on TV

Another autumn Sunday and once again the news is grim for the National Football League. Ratings continue to fall, fans are leaving in droves and now sponsors are beginning to have second thoughts about wasting their advertising dollars on programming fewer and fewer suckers are watching:

Papa John’s International Inc. is evaluating its National Football League sponsorship in the wake of declining television football viewership, which the company has blamed in part on the national anthem protests that have roiled the league this season.

Top executives at the pizza chain said they are in weekly discussions with the NFL about the returns their advertising dollars are generating and that they will see how the rest of the football season plays out before making any big decisions. But they say consumers’ shift to digital channels is leading them to completely rethink the way they advertise.

“We have to evaluate our reliance on partnerships that are TV-focused, like the NFL,” Papa John’s Chief Marketing Officer Brandon Rhoten said in an interview on Friday, two days after the company reported that falling TV viewership of NFL games hurt the company’s third-quarter sales.

And why is this, pray tell?

Total NFL ratings through the first seven weeks of the season declined by 5% compared with last year and by about 15% versus the same stretch in 2015, which was a strong season for the league. Media experts say many league offerings—from additional Thursday night games to the availability of games on digital devices and outlets—has led viewers to watch football elsewhere. “If the viewership decline continues, we will need to shift into things that work more effectively for us,” said Papa John’s President and Chief Operating Officer Steve Ritchie.

Colin Kaepernick, the mediocre quarterback now suing the NFL because it's apparently his civil right to have a job playing pro football, is the proximate cause of the ratings plunge. His narcissistic and unpatriotic insistence on kneeling, rather than standing, for the national anthem kicked off a wave of solipsistic "protest" by the overpaid grunts of the National Football League. That the league's strongest appeal is precisely in those regions of the country where high-school and college football is practically the local religion -- and where patriotism runs the strongest -- never seems to have occurred to anybody, especially the hapless commissioner, Roger Goodell, and most of the owners.

The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones, the Patriots’ Robert Kraft and the Texans’ Bob McNair will be deposed and asked to turn over all cellphone records and emails in relation to Kaepernick’s accusation, ESPN.com reported. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll and 49ers owner Jed York is also on the deposition list, according to Yahoo Sports. Giants owners John Mara and Steve Tisch are also on the discovery list, according to Yahoo Sports.

The 49ers quarterback-turned-NFL martyr is charging that NFL teams, in “calculated coordination” with President Trump, blackballed him from the league after he became the face of the NFL anthem protests, which he started to fight against racial inequality. Kaepernick opted out of his 49ers contract this offseason and has yet to get significant interest from teams, despite being more talented and having a better track record than a handful of the starters in the league, let along [sic] the backups.

So what? The NFL, despite its favorable treatment by the IRS, is still a private enterprise and it can hire and fire almost at will. Kaepernick's genius was to use the resonance of the civil-rights movement as his cover, and he hopes no one will notice how short a legal and moral leg he has to stand on.

In the end, however, it won't matter. The NFL is doomed because broadcast and cable television itself is doomed, as folks pull the plug on cable and satellite and instead opt for pay-on-demand services. It was a nice run while it lasted, but it's no coincidence that pro football metastasized from an also-ran to baseball in the 1960s to a steroid-fueled TV behemoth from the invention of Monday Night Football on. That vogue has now, it seems, run its course, and the ratings decline would likely be happening even without Kaepernick & Co. But they have certainly exacerbated it, and their continuing "protests" (about what? And what does football have to do with it?) are hastening the end of the sport's hold on both the viewing public and advertising dollars.

It is unclear how much impact football players’ national anthem protests have had on viewership, but Papa John’s says that issue needs to be resolved. Papa John’s founder and Chief Executive John Schnatter  on Wednesday told investors that the NFL showed “poor leadership” by not resolving the issue already, saying the issue is “polarizing the customer, polarizing the country.”

“We are anxiously awaiting a solution to be created. That’s what will put the league in a positive place for the players, the fan base and the partners associated with them,” said Mr. Ritchie, who emphatically denied that the company has applied any pressure to the league to ban the anthem protests.

Well, it should, but apparently the fear of the "social-justice warriors" still paralyzes many a pusillanimous corporate executive. No matter what Goodell decides, however, the larger issue won't go away. Increasingly, Americans have figured out that we don't have to pay hefty monthly fees for programming we will never watch. As my old friend John Nolte writes:

The awesome news is that cord-cutting *is* accelerating. There is no question about it. For starters, the 22 million is a big 33% leap over the number of adults who cut the cord in 2016, and well above what had been estimated at 15.4 million. Already in the first half of 2017, some 1.25M  households cut the cord. We have a long way to go, the bloodbath is occurring in slow-motion, but at least it is occurring.

For our purposes, though, for the purpose of destroying the likes of CNN and ESPN, of annihilating a rigged system that makes you pay for the very networks determined to destroy you and everything you hold dear, keep your eye on that number of households or subscriptions. And… please, please, please cut the cord. If not for America, do it for the children.

My solution is even more elegant: simply stop watching television, except for movies and the occasional compelling series -- and these you don't need a television set for; your computer or tablet will do just fine, and news is readily available on the internet for free. I realize that the addiction is hard to break. Then again, so was our national addiction to cigarettes, and today you hardly ever see anyone smoking them. The day is coming when the NFL will contract rather than expand -- both L.A. franchises are doomed -- and return to its modest working-class roots as a minor spectator sport, one to be desultorily followed rather than obsessed over.

Think of the money you'll save -- no more season tickets, no more apparel and gear, no more playing the role of the chump as a small group of men laughs at you all the way to the bank. Cities will benefit once they realize they don't need an NFL franchise in order to be "world class," and no longer have to promise billionaires significant financial advantages in order to employ millionaires who liken themselves to antebellum slaves. Congress can and should eliminate the NFL's remaining tax breaks and let them pay their own freight.

If the end of the NFL hastens the death of television-as-we-knew-it as well, then the league finally will have performed a service to the country that benefits all Americans. And it won't cost us a dime.