The National Football League is about to present its worldwide showcase contest, the 52nd Super Bowl. In the previous 51 games, the Super Bowl has become the most watched single sporting event every year in the United States and around the world.
This has benefitted the NFL in incalculable ways. We can measure a large portion of the impact by the money made through the Super Bowl in various ways. The largest and most important single avenue is the broadcast rights the NFL sells each year to the lucky network that will bid the most. This year that network is NBC. They paid about 1 billion dollars as part of a three-network deal.
Why point out these facts? Because of another fact that is different this year. That is, of course, the refusal of many players to stand during the national anthem. The TV ratings and viewership have been precipitately lower this year and these protests during the anthem throughout the league in 2017 are a big reason for this.
This makes the latest move by the NFL very disconcerting for the future of the game. The NFL has just recently refused to air an advertisement by AMVETS, one of the largest and oldest veterans organizations. The ad was a powerful encouragement to stand for the national anthem and the flag.
The AMVETS chief noted the irony that the NFL continues to claim that the anti-American protests by millionaire players on the field represent “free speech” even as the league denies free speech to AMVETS. AMVETS officials said the same #PleaseStand ad was accepted by the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball for inclusion in their all-star games’ programs.
It appears the NFL is about to self-destruct, and this is how and why.
How Is This Ad Refusal Self-Destructive?
The lifeblood of any business isn’t its executives or owners. It doesn’t flow in the consistency or even excellence of the employees. The lifeblood of any business is the consumer of their product. If there are no consumers, nothing else will matter. It is the reason behind the demand for professional marketers by businesses large and small.
As was noted, the TV ratings are down for the NFL, both in the 2017 season and the playoffs. These figures are scrutinized carefully by those who choose to advertise in the Super Bowl because it is extremely expensive to advertise there.
The average price for a 30-second commercial in last year’s Super Bowl game reached an all-time high of $5.05 million, up 87 percent during the past decade. It’s the most expensive air time on television by far.
This also means that a 30-second spot for the Super Bowl will easily be most businesses largest single marketing cost that year. A regular NFL advertiser, like Nationwide Insurance, pays for this service in every regular-season game as well as the playoffs.
These are gigantic investments in advertising during the Super Bowl precisely because the reward is the largest single audience by far for their company’s ads that year. If that audience begins to shrink, there will be companies that begin to think they should reconsider advertising in the NFL, perhaps even the Super Bowl. When the NFL doesn’t address this, it is self-destructive behavior.
Angering the Consumer In Business Is Self-Destructive
The bottom line is that the NFL is a business. The lifeblood of the NFL is the fanbase. They are the consumers of the ‘product’ put out by the league. In business terms, the product is the game itself. The players are the ones who make and deliver the ‘product’ to the consumers each week. The advertisers pay the NFL big bucks to get views from the fans.
In fact, the fans of the NFL go above and beyond simply paying to watch the games, whether televised or live. The NFL is also subsidized by governments all over the country. The fans, either in whole or in part, finance the stadiums through taxes and the NFL doesn’t have to carry the load.
When a business has consumers who not only buy the product but pay for every place the product is shown as well, they have a lot invested in that product. It is never wise for a business to consistently anger the consumer of its product. It is also self-destructive to pretend there is no problem with losing consumers when the problem clearly exists.
Can the NFL Be Talked Off the Ledge?
The short answer to this question is ‘probably not.’ It is unlikely the league will be convinced to change its course, at least at the present moment. At the very beginning of the ‘protest’ phenomenon, the NFL had a chance to contain the dishonorable actions, but they stood by and waited.
Now that an entire season has passed the unpopularity of the NFL is unprecedented. It may end up being the end of the organization if the ratings continue to drop in the 2018 season. However, the NFL decided to add insult to insult by refusing the advertising of a major group representing the very people most angered by these ‘protests,’ military veterans.
This is putting the entire enterprise on the proverbial ledge and about to plunge to its doom. There was a chance for some improvement in the situation had the league simply accepted the AMVETS ad.
Yet the NFL seems blind to the gravity of its plight. The Commissioner of the NFL in November 2017 announced a huge social justice issue spending campaign in an attempt to placate protesting players. The attempt failed as protests continued after the announcement was made.
The NFL Was Feeling Ill Before This
In the years leading up to protest controversy, the NFL was in ill health as an organization. Factors such as the concussion scandals coupled with the increasingly criminal character of many players were tarnishing the luster of the once mighty NFL brand. As these things became more known, some people expressed that NFL should stand for “National Felons League.”
To add to the ravages of an already ravaged reputation by adding even more unhealthy behavior is showing suicidal tendencies. The NFL won’t perish right away, to be sure. However, next season might give a clearer picture of how long it has to live.
At this point, unless there is a drastic change in the response of the NFL to its consumers, the fans, I’m not sure that many will care if it dies. The sad part is that most of the blame isn’t really on the players who are protesting. It is the NFL itself that is to blame because they already had the power to stop this latest fatal wound when it was just a scratch.
The NFL Could Have Stopped the Bleeding
The NFL already had a ‘rule’ contained, not in the official rulebook, but in the “Policy Manual for Member Clubs” of the NFL. Failure to stand with helmet in hand facing the flag:
may result in disciplinary action from the League office …such as fines, suspensions, and/or the forfeiture of draft choice(s) for violation of the above, including first offenses.
The key word in all of this is “may” and not “will,” result in the discipline. It is at the discretion of the league whether or not to enforce the rule. Failure to do so is another sign of suicidal behavior.
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Maxim Pierre’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of stannate’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License