Following the National Football League’s full embrace of the #TakeAKnee national anthem protests this weekend, a new Morning Consult poll provides yet more evidence that the league’s handling of the issue has done real damage to the brand. The survey found the NFL’s brand favorability nearly sliced in half in a week and at its lowest point since they began tracking it back in May. The news follows dramatic drops in viewership on Sunday, down around 10% over last year, and Thursday, down 13%.
The Morning Consult study published Friday shows that in just a little over a week, the NFL’s brand favorability dropped by nearly half, from 30% having a positive view of the league to just 17% having a positive view. Back in May, the league enjoyed an over 50% favorability score.
Morning Consult compared the NFL’s favorability numbers to the average of the professional sports industry and found a dramatic divergence over the last few weeks, nosediving precipitously in the last eight days as the national anthem protests took center stage following President Trump’s fiery comments about “son of a b****” anthem protesters.
Here’s the graph provided by Morning Consult showing the sharp decline in the NFL’s favorability:
Unsurprisingly, the survey found that perception of the NFL soured most among Trump voters. Just over a week ago, only 11% of Trump voters had a “very” unfavorable view of the league; that number has now tripled to 33%. The number of respondents who said they believe the NFL has a positive “community impact” also dropped, falling 10% in a week to 35%.
The survey is additional evidence that the NFL is in a full-blown public relations crisis — and the league execs know it full well, as a recent New York Times report demonstrates. The Times provides a few glimpses of the frantic scramble going on behind the scenes to manage the crisis.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, several key owners, and a group of players got together this week for an emergency meeting to try to figure out how to move forward without tearing the league apart. The league’s owners, notes the Times, find themselves caught between “the players’ desire to rebuff criticism from President Trump and to kneel or lock arms during the national anthem” and the wishes of the fans, “who would prefer football to just be about football.”
The situation is heightened by an “unpredictable president” who has proven in his various public feuds that he will never let up, especially if he thinks he’s winning — which he is, as indicated by multiple teams already announcing they will all stand from here on out and the mounting backlash from fans.
“No concrete measures came from the meeting, and the league did not explicitly try to put a stop to the protests, even though one player who attended said he felt it was the owners’ desire that all players stand for the anthem,” the Times reports; however, an unofficial strategy has emerged: try to let the president “punch himself out” while finding other ways to raise “awareness” about racial issues.
While the owners and players try to reach a compromise, Goodell is making the rounds trying to calm down the league’s sponsors after having already lost one, and as fans ask for refunds on the NFL package and season tickets:
Goodell and his advisers have looked to soothe sponsors’ concerns, speaking to them from league headquarters in Manhattan. Though Nike and other companies have issued statements in support of the players’ right to protest, DirectTV, which sells the Sunday Ticket package of every N.F.L. game, reportedly will allow fans to receive refunds if they cite the anthem protests as a reason.
The league is also monitoring fan reaction, especially on social media, where videos have surfaced showing people burning N.F.L. jerseys. Nearly every team has been fielding hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of calls from fans, most of them opposed to the protests. Some have even turned in their season tickets.
If the NFL knows what’s good for it, it will learn a lesson from the NBA and the women’s Legends Football League and shut down the protests as quickly as possible or there will be a lot more crisis management meetings coming in the near future.