As the national anthem protests continue to take their toll on the reputation of the NFL, it seems that once-enthusiastic fans are giving up on the game for good.
NFL officials were stunned to see massive numbers of empty seats on gameday. Coupled with a double-digit decline in viewership, it’s a sign that football fans are growing increasingly frustrated as players continue to “take a knee” during the national anthem.
Radio reporter John Dickinson tweeted a picture of the Levi Stadium in San Francisco, showing an almost empty arena just before the game. “As a few others have noted. Sparse & or late-arriving crowd at Levi’s Stadium this afternoon for C.J. Beathard vs. Drew Stanton,” he said.
Another Twitter user claimed that two-thirds of the seats were empty for this weekend match. “My estimate – 2/3 empty at kickoff,” the user tweeted, adding that “Opening kickoff here in Santa Clara. Where is everyone?” and “As a lifelong season ticket holder, what an embarrassment.”
Fans have been showing their frustration over the national anthem protests ever since they first began when Colin Kaepernick started the controversial trend. According to a 2016 Rasmussen poll, nearly one-third (32 percent) of Americans said they were less likely to watch an NFL game because of the protests that were taking place. In 2017, Rasmussen released another poll to the same effect which saw that figure rise to 34 percent.
Nor is this the first time the league has had trouble filling stadiums. The Los Angeles Chargers have resorted to playing games in a 27,000 seat stadium, going so far as to tarp off seats in an already small arena.
This decline in both viewership and game attendance has not only affected the league, but also companies that have business relationships with the NFL. One of the league’s long-time sponsors, Papa John’s, has pulled their advertisements from the games. Despite being a sponsor since 2010, poor market performance in comparison to their competitors has led the pizza-chain to question its association with the now controversial league.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” said CEO John Schnatter in a conference call with investors. “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders,” he said, adding that the controversy should have been dealt with a year and a half ago.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released an official memo to all teams in the league, calling for players to stop the national anthem protests. “The controversy over the Anthem is a barrier to having honest conversations and making real progress on the underlying issues. We need to move past this controversy, and we want to do that together with our players,” read the document.
NFL games saw more empty seats in arenas this Sunday during football games. Will the NFL have to make a move to help rescue their ratings and profits?
While many sports fans and conservatives saw the move as a step in the right direction, others felt that the league took far too long in making this decision, and as such, allowed these players to draw unnecessary attention for longer than appropriate.
“The fact is, we have about half a dozen players that are protesting,” Goodell told reporters, “We are hoping to continue to try and work and get that to zero.”
Goodell’s words sound genuine, but he had not implemented any penalties or other consequences for players who continue to protest. Until the NFL puts an end to these protests, empty stadiums will remain a common sight going forward. And some believe rightly so.