Sundays and Thursday nights are becoming my favorite nights of the week. It’s my day to grab a few beers, maybe some Wing Stop, and click on the television to watch football.
I love the sport. As an island boy from Galveston, I’ve loved the Houston Texans for years. As a Dallas transplant who got caught up in the culture, I’ve double-dipped and am also a big Dallas Cowboys fan, even though they haven’t deserved it at all lately. Still, I’m blessed to be able to go to the games frequently.
But for a little while, the NFL was an insufferable mess.
I’m not sure how many times I opened up an internet browser during the year when the only thing I heard about was Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling nonsense, and then the following year it was players following suit. Social justice had threatened to take over one of America’s favorite sports.
Luckily, the fans weren’t having it, and we began to tune out in droves.
I don’t mean small batches here and there either. Ratings began to decline so badly that by the time we were neck-deep in the social justice mire, the league had lost 33 percent of its audience.
According to a survey done by Survey Monkey at the time, the fans were making it very clear why they were tuning out, and at the top of the list was their support for Donald Trump, whom many of the protesting NFL players had begun speaking out against:
They answered as follows: 32% said they stopped watching or attending NFL games “in support of Donald Trump”; 22% said “in solidarity with players kneeling”; 13% said “no interest in the teams playing”; 12% said “in support of Colin Kaepernick”; and 11% said “news about traumatic brain injuries among players.” Another 8% said “games are boring.” 46% chose “some other reason.”
DirectTV even began receiving a deluge of demands for refunds for their NFL packages. Typically, the company has an “all sales final” policy in regards to this specific package, but they reversed it due to the “sensitive nature” of the problem.
The point being made by fans was clear. “We don’t like this, and we’re not going to watch it.”
By the time the league figured it out, things were pretty bad. Ratings were in the toilet, and so they decided to do the smart thing and get back to why the people came in the first place; the game.
As the politics was pushed out the door, the people began to come back. Now, the reports have been nothing but positive, as The Hollywood Reporter reported. Last Thursday’s game jumped an entire 24 percent alone:
Thursday Night Football clocked in at 11.65 million viewers in the fast nationals, up a healthy 24 percent from last week’s early returns. That game ended up with 13.52 million viewers with time-zone adjustments and the addition of NFL Network’s simulcast.
Back in October, the Hollywood Reporter had been tracking the rise for some time and decided to ask some questions as to why. Michael Mulvihill, executive vp and head of strategy and analytics at Fox Sports, stated the obvious, and noted that it’s about the games again:
“If the conversation around football is primarily about the game, then we’re probably winning,” said Mulvihill. “And if the conversation is about topics away from the game, we’re probably losing. I think the focus for the past season and a half has become more where we’d like it to be, which is just on the games.”
While the NFL still has a way to go before it recovers from the damage politics did to the sport, it’s well on its way to a healthy rehabilitation. According to THR, the NFL has recovered nine percent of its audience.
I think what this tells us is pretty clear.
Politics erodes. There’s nothing it touches that doesn’t cause division and disinterest. The drama and hatred that follows in its wake destroys, and very rarely ever build. While some brands benefit from being attacked, the chances of your brand coming out unscathed by involving itself in politics is small.
Just ask Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gillette, Disney…and the NFL.
Every brand in America should be watching these ratings rehabilitation with great interest and taking a lesson from it.
If you go political, you will alienate. Staying neutral may make some people angry with you for a time, but the mob is fickle and will forget about you. It’s best to just stay out of it, and sell your product to whoever wants it.