The National Football League (NFL) was alarmed in August 2016 at the outset of a string of player protests, which resulted in declining viewership and boycotts by some consumers – both in support of and opposition to the protest. How have the NFL and the spectator sports industry as a whole fared through all this turmoil?
A Partisan Protest
In August 2016, former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick knelt during the pre-game national anthem in protest against ongoing police brutality and racism in the US. The player’s actions sparked a national debate on issues ranging from racial equality to freedom of speech, leading to boycotts of teams and the NFL as a whole from people on both sides of the issue. As the debate raged on and grew more politicized, the NFL and its sponsors began to grow concerned.
In 2017, President Trump called upon the NFL to hold players accountable for kneeling during the anthem, prompting more intense and widespread player protests and further viewer boycotts stretching throughout a range of professional sports. The NFL issued a statement that players would no longer be allowed to kneel on-field, but could continue to do so in the locker room. The reactions among consumers varied. Some burned their season tickets and jerseys, others cancelled sports video subscriptions. A majority did nothing at all.
Bearing the Brunt of the Boycott
The financial impact went largely unnoticed that year, as season tickets and merchandise were already purchased. By 2018, the downturn in spending on spectator sports grew more apparent. However, the effects seem unlikely to last much longer for a number of reasons.
Boycotts may feature a vocal minority, but the majority of people do not act on the suggestion. Those that do engage often fail to maintain their commitment long enough to produce results. Another factor in play in this scenario is the impact team loyalty has on an individual’s personal identity. The tenacity shown in team support becomes an almost unshakable part of a person, and this is more likely to be true among those fans passionate enough to take steps to boycott the NFL or any other spectator sports organization.
A Gallup poll in January 2018 showed that football is the favorite sport to watch for 37% of respondents, compared to basketball’s 11% and baseball’s 9%. With this in mind, it seems that the downturn in spectator sports spending in 2018 was almost solely due to the publicity surrounding the NFL protests and boycott. While some fans may continue their boycott, the combination of the NFL’s policy on kneeling, the relatively low news coverage of the ongoing protests, and the nature of fandom are likely to drive revenue back to trend.
Want to Learn More?
Don’t worry, we have you covered! For additional information and analysis of US industry trends, see Recreation: United States, a report published by the Freedonia Focus Reports division of The Freedonia Group.
This report forecasts US personal consumption expenditures (PCE) on recreation in nominal and real (inflation-adjusted) US dollars to 2023. Total PCE is segmented by market in terms of:
- amusement parks and related services
- clubs and participant sports
- live entertainment
- spectator sports
- movie theaters
- museums and libraries
To illustrate historical trends, total PCE and the various segments are provided in annual series from 2008 to 2018.
Expenditures include services financed by third parties (e.g., business group visits) as well as services provided without a financial intermediary. Spending on other services – such as accommodation, dining, and shopping – offered by a recreation service provider is excluded from the scope of this report.
You can also check out some of our related reports, which include:
About the Author
Chris Dyer is a Market Research Analyst for Freedonia Focus Reports. He holds a Master of Arts in Security Studies, and his experience as an analyst covers multiple industries.