On September 17, 2015, Rick Kissell in a Variety article said: “The National Football League may have had its share of off-the-field distractions in recent years, but its TV ratings have never been higher…With an average audience of 19.9 million viewers for games last Thursday, Sunday and Monday, the NFL saw its largest-ever Week 1 tune-in, according to Nielsen. The previous high of 19.6 million came for the 2013 Kickoff Weekend.”
Fast forward to October 4, 2016, when Brandon Katz wrote for Forbes: “It seems likely that the numerous #BoycottNFL online campaigns and fan outrage aimed at the National Anthem protests in the NFL have taken a toll in terms of viewership this season. Additionally, cord-cutting continues to eat into traditional TV’s ratings at an alarming rate…We’re barely a year removed from the NFL setting all-time records in viewership, yet now the league is on pace for its lowest ratings in years. That’s a sharp and unexpectedly sudden turn.”
Katz believes that “football fatigue” among viewers also accounts for some of the ratings decline, and he may be right. However, the extremely negative publicity that the NFL has received over player protests during the National Anthem surely is a major contributing factor, as he clearly points out.
The NFL is a prime case-in-point of how to damage a terrific brand via self-inflicted wounds that turn off a sizeable portion of fans. North American horse racing wrote the textbook on this technique and, to its detriment, continues to add chapters.
For example, in the early days of simulcasting, Luddite executives at many racetracks resisted embracing the communication and information technologies that would provide convenience for their bettors. Currently, the sport persists in not rallying around a federally-mandated uniform system for regulating medication usage and for sanctioning offenders.
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