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Protests dinged NFL’s business barely, if at all

National Football League player protests are back in the national news, thanks to the league’s new policy requiring players to stand and “show respect for the flag” if they are on the field during pregame flag ceremonies – and thanks to the President’s prompt criticism of that policy.

Under the policy, protesters may ride out pre-games in the locker room — or else their teams would face being fined by the league.

So the state of the conflict — the difference of opinion over whether football pregame fields ought to be seeded for arguments about police violence — appears practically no different. But enough new information has come to light to revisit the editorial we printed last October.

Based on reports at that time, we judged the protests were bringing the NFL to a critical point. But neither pro football nor the football business has died. Not even close.

We had judged the broadcasters were paying far too much for NFL events. But the Super Bowl broadcast once again commanded $5 million for a 30-second advertising spot, and under a deal reported in January, Fox will pay $60 million per Thursday night game, up from $45 million.

We had judged the protesting players were putting all players’ paychecks on the line. But the NFL salary cap grew from $167 million to $177 million this past off-season.

We had judged local fans – and fans across the country – were tuning out. A survey reported in February found NFL ratings, in fact, declined 10-16 percent in counties outside of major markets.

In light of what happened and what didn’t happen, it’s also worth pondering a possibility we didn’t consider last fall. It appears the player protests may not actually strike at the heart of the NFL’s business.

But marketers (namely, per, Horizon Media’s Stephen Hall) are worrying “the NFL seems to be losing its connection with fans, who feel the sport has become too much of a business, is less family-friendly and, in a sense, is losing its ‘heart.’”

For addressing those problems, we can think of no better choice to be made than the one “America’s Team” made with its first-round pick last month in Arlington, Texas. So, congratulations, Dallas. We think you’ve landed a linebacker capable of making football look great again. We’ll be watching.

— Andrew Ottoson

for the editorial board


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