The NFL player protests during the national anthem have devolved into a circular firing squad of blame, as no resolution of the issue seems in sight, or even possible. This week, Papa John’s Pizza, a disabled veteran, Howard University cheerleaders, a bar owner, and Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully weighed in with their own stances on the controversy.
Scully was the latest to pile on. During a speech Saturday night at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, he was asked about the demonstrations made by NFL players. Scully’s reply: “I will never watch another NFL game again,” according to Sports Illustrated.
The increasingly entrenched positions on the national anthem are having an affect on one crucial demographic beyond actual fans – marketers have told broadcasters that continued spotlighting of the anthem protests will be bad for business.
Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, keynoted an event held in New York at the ad agency RGA. While Yaccarino said no advertisers had pulled out of NFL games because of the protests, they were indicating that could change. “Marketers have said, ‘We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,'” Yaccarino said.
Yaccarino’s remarks buttressed what Papa John’s pizza founder and CEO John Schnatter said earlier during an earnings call. Schnatter said the firm’s failure to meet earnings projections were the fault of the ongoing protests, and warned that his days as the Official Pizza Sponsor of the NFL may be ending if things don’t improve.
“Leadership starts at the top, and this is an example of poor leadership,” Schnatter said. “The NFL has hurt Papa John’s shareholders.”Sports Illustrated reported that the NFL averaged 14.772 million viewers during the first eight weeks of the season, per Nielsen data. That’s down five percent from the first half of the 2016 season and off 18.7 percent from the same period in 2015, a time before former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick kicked off the current protests.
What all that means is real money is being lost. Add in the angry fans who are threatening to avoid watching, and you have a league whose problems apparently are trending extremely negatively.
Perhaps the backlash is having an effect on player protests – or, at least, media coverage of them. Last week, practically the entire Houston Texans team took a knee during the national anthem. The protest was aimed at the team’s owner, whose comment that the “inmates can’t be running the prison” remarked angered the players. This week, the team honored veterans at their game, and the entire team reportedly stood for the anthem.Let's