The NFL’s nightmare continues as the regular season nears its end, with tumbling ratings, empty seats and protests against the American flag.
Last week’s “Thursday Night Football,” featuring the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, had a had a season-low audience.
By week 14, the NFL had lost 120 million people from its total audience compared to last season. That number continues to increase every week.
Attendance also is down, and ticket prices are plummeting. Tickets for the recent Colts-Bills game were selling for under $5 on secondary market sites.
Perhaps most importantly, NFL sponsors are beginning to complain the league may no longer be worth the investment. CEO Joe F. Sanderson Jr. of Sanderson Farms, a major poultry producer, reported customers for his chicken wings are seeing less traffic in their stores, which they attribute to the NFL’s fall in popularity.
And the NFL continues to lag behind other American sports in terms of its public image. For the third straight month, polling data showed the NFL has the highest unfavorable rating of any major sport in the United States.
The divisive “Take A Knee” protests are not likely to fade away any time soon. More than a dozen players joined the protests during Week 15, with 10 Seattle Seahawks players sitting or kneeling during the singing of the national anthem.
And the league’s problems may soon grow even more intense, as rap mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs claimed he would attempt to buy the Carolina Panthers franchise after its current owner said he will sell at the end of the season following sexual misconduct allegations. Combs is framing his attempted purchase as a victory for diversity.
There are no majority African American NFL owners. Let’s make history.
— Diddy (@Diddy) December 18, 2017
Combs also said he would hire Colin Kaepernick, the Black Lives Matter-supporting former NFL quarterback who sparked the anthem-protest movement.
Beyond protests, the NFL also faces long-term challenges. Theodore Kupfer in the conservative National Review magazine goes so far as to ask whether football will survive. Though he ultimately concludes it will, Kupfer believes the epidemic of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) plaguing NFL players following many years of constant collisions and blows to the head will force changes in the sport, especially as fewer young men are taking up the dangerous game.
Finally, the NFL may even have to deal with a direct competitor. WWE owner Vince McMahon is reportedly considering bringing back the XFL, the ill-fated professional league that played one season in 2001. Fox Sports reported McMahon has filed for a number of professional football trademarks, including “For the love of football” and “United Football League.”
McMahon might even have a quiet supporter in President Trump, who has mobilized public opinion against the NFL’s toleration of the flag protests. Vince McMahon’s wife, Linda, is head of the Small Business Administration, and the president has hosted the McMahons at the White House.
President Trump also challenged the NFL when he bought the New Jersey Generals franchise in the fledgling United States Football League. Though league lasted from 1983 to 1986.