The mighty NFL — a TV-ratings juggernaut that commanded billion-dollar contracts from major networks — is now viewed less favorably than Major League Baseball, college football and basketball, and the NBA.
As recently as August, the NFL was flying high. But the anthem protests and the arrogant response of owners and players have driven down the league’s favorable numbers in September and they’re now nearly underwater.
The Winston Poll from the Washington-based Winston Group found that the attitude of those fans went from an August rating of 73 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable to 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a remarkable turn against the sport.
According to the poll analysis, “more critically for the NFL, the fall off in favorables occurred among important audiences. Among males, NFL favorables fell 23 percent, going from 68 percent to 45 percent. In looking at a more specific audience, males 34-54, NFL favorables fell 31 percent, going from 73 percent to 42 percent. Among this group the NFL has a surprising negative image, as it went from +54 percent in August to -5 percent in September.”
The Winston Poll was of brand images for the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and college football and basketball. It was of 1,000 registered voters and taken August 29-30 and then again September 28-29.
In August, baseball had the highest favorables, just a few points above the NFL.
The change in favorability from August to September proves that there can be no other rational explanation for the drop than the anthem protests.
August Winston Poll
- MLB/61 percent favorable to 13 percent unfavorable.
- NFL/57 percent favorable to 23 percent unfavorable.
- College football/53 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.
- College basketball/48 percent favorable to 17 percent unfavorable.
- NBA/47 percent unfavorable to 23 percent unfavorable.
September Winston Poll
MLB/63 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.
College football/51 percent favorable to 21 percent unfavorable.
NBA/46 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable.
College basketball/45 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable.
NFL/44 percent favorable to 40 percent unfavorable.
Also according to the poll, the league saw a drop in favorability among every category of NFL fan.
The NFL’s current TV contracts extend through 2022. But if this keeps up, networks are almost certainly going to demand a renegotiation of their deals.
Another confirmation that the anthem protests are having a catastrophic effect on the league’s bottom line is the news that the sales of game tickets from brokers — the so-called aftermarket — are cratering.
An analysis released Friday by CNBC found that ticket prices during the first three games of the 2017 season enjoyed a 20-40 percent increase over last year, but then skidded in Week 4 and actually dropped by 2 percent in Week 5.
The timing coincides with the uproar following President Trump’s criticism of the protests on Sept. 22, which prompted nearly 200 players to sit or take a knee during the national anthem in the Sept. 24-25 games in Week 3.
“After the president’s comments and NFL player reactions, Week 4 saw only a 5 percent increase, and now we’re seeing an outright decline. So that’s a bad direction,” said CNBC’s Eric Chemi.
None of this will change the minds of owners, of course. They badly miscalculated fan reaction and discovered to their horror that some of their most rabid followers are angry with the teams and the league — angry enough to switch channels or refuse to attend the games in person.
Good thing the baseball playoffs are on today.