How Long Can the NFL Ignore the National Anthem Controversy?

Sports league is increasingly plagued by emptier stadiums, lost revenue, lower TV ratings — it's time for this group to get smart

Although the NFL was once considered the most popular sports league in North America, support for this organization has steadily dwindled ever since Colin Kaepernick first knelt during the national anthem last season.

Since the 2015 season, the league’s television ratings are reportedly down about 15 percent.

There was also an 8 percent dip from 2015 to 2016 — and a 7.5 percent dip from 2016 to 2017, according to Bleacher Report.

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It also appears fans are increasingly deciding to skip the actual games as well. Fan photos taken this past Sunday of NFL stadiums show thousands of empty seats — a sight that should no doubt be deeply concerning for the league.

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Overall, ticket sales have dropped slightly — even though many fans buy tickets well before the season starts.

There has reportedly been an average of 67,969 tickets sold per game this year, compared to 68,939 per game last year — a drop of nearly 1,000 fans per game. The average NFL face ticket price is roughly $93, according to Team Marketing Report, and when one accounts for the 32 NFL teams — most of which play eight home games per season — this means there could be about $23 million less in ticket sales this season.

These figures only account for paid attendance. So for all of the tickets sold — fans aren’t necessarily in the seats. This is something ticket resale companies have battled while trying to sell NFL tickets this season.

In late September, there was a 16 percent drop in sales when players started kneeling in larger numbers after President Donald Trump criticized the movement as unpatriotic, according to TicketCity.

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Since the NFL anthem protests have made tickets less desirable for fans, some resellers are now taking drastic measures. It has gotten to the point where the Dallas Cowboys — who have the highest average face value ticket price in the league ($208, according to the Austin American Statesman) — now have hundreds of their tickets for sale on StubHub for less than a tenth of that (about $20).

Fans are voicing their concerns loud and clear. How much revenue does the league have to lose before it starts listening?

A handful of NFL owners think they have one way to avoid the controversy that’s been sinking the league’s brand these past two seasons. NFL team owners have been considering a policy change regarding what teams do during the national anthem, according to a Washington Post report last week. After the season, some NFL owners may propose that teams stay in the locker room during the anthem — to prevent further controversy and drops in both attendance and ticket sales. This is what the league did prior to 2009, however; not everyone is happy with this potential response, including President Trump.

On Twitter, Trump blasted the potential response by the league when he said, “That’s almost as bad as kneeling! When will the highly paid Commissioner finally get tough and smart? This issue is killing your league!”

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With a few weeks left to go this season, it might be a good time for the NFL to start looking at its options to address the kneeling situation. Fans are voicing their concerns loud and clear. How much revenue does the league have to lose before it starts listening?

Tom Joyce
meet the author

Tom Joyce is a freelance writer from the South Shore of Massachusetts. He covers sports, pop culture, and politics and has contributed to The Federalist, Newsday, ESPN, and other outlets.

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