After another low season of bad press, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell released a pretty hopeful statement before Thursday's opening game between the Atlanta Falcons and defending champion Philadelphia Eagles, saying "football unites us everybody".
"This is for you, your team and the 99th NFL season," Goodell wrote. & # 39; It's time to celebrate. & # 39;
Such sentiments from the commissioners are somewhat mandatory at the start of a season, but Goodell seemed tremendously optimistic considering that the NFL faces enough trouble to fill out a CVS receipt.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was optimistic in his speech to the fans, but the league's problems are no cause for celebration after a national poll revealed that fan interest is diminishing.
The ratings have fallen in each of the last two years; the controversy over the players protesting during the national anthem was somehow intensified during the offseason; and perhaps the most recognizable player in the world, free quarterback Colin Kaepernick, is currently suing the league, claiming that the 32 owners conspired in retaliation for igniting those protests in 2016 as a way to raise awareness about police brutality racist.
The most important story before tonight's first game is not the game, not even the state of the Eagles quarterback, Carson Wentz, but the new announcement from Nike & # 39; Just Do It & # 39; with Kaepernick that will air during the NBC broadcast.
While the NFL is distancing itself from Kaepernick, Nike has embraced the controversial star and will post an announcement during Thursday's season opener with the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
To listen to President Donald Trump, the problems of the NFL begin and end with the controversial protests. And according to a new poll by NBC News / Wall Street Journal, the interest of fans is diminishing. Only 10 percent of Republicans and only 38 percent of white respondents said they felt the protests were appropriate. (The poll did not directly ask why fans may be losing interest in the NFL)
However, the harsh reality is that the controversy over the anthem only represents problems on the surface, and the problems of the NFL are much deeper. Namely, young Americans are changing the channel, and participation in the game at youth and high school levels is plummeting, prompting an uncertain future for the most popular professional sports league in the country.
"The NFL has been falling into the youngest demographics for many years," said Jon Lewis, who writes extensively about Nielsen's ratings on his website, Sports Media Watch. "Even in the years when the ratings were really good, the youngest demos were down.
"At a certain point, that erosion becomes something that affects the overall figures," he continued. "Because once you have people aging out of the demonstration, and they're not being replaced, you're going to see how your numbers decrease." We've also seen it in other sports, like NASCAR, it's not something there's a reason why which NFL ratings are going down. "
Goodell emphasized in his letter to fans that "football unites us all"
While the protests have been controversial, polls suggest that younger viewers view the demonstrations in a more positive way. However, the NFL continues to lose its younger audience
According to Lotame data released in February, fans between the ages of 18 and 24 had the lowest interest in the NFL, and as Lewis pointed out, the reasoning behind that trend is not entirely clear.
You can not simply point to the protests as an explanation because, as revealed by the NBC / WSJ survey, 56 percent of respondents in the age group of 18 to 34 felt that the demonstrations are appropriate compared to only 41 percent. a hundred that they thought not.
Kaepernick (left) and Eric Reid (right) are suing the NFL, accusing the owners of conspiring against them in retaliation for protesting during the national anthem.
And the rankings are also reduced in other sports, such as Major League Baseball, where the anthem protests are not causing any controversy.
If Trump is right, and Americans are shutting down the NFL with disgust at the protests, then why does an All-American sport, fed on corn like NASCAR, see its own ratings plummet? The inaugural game of this year's season, the Daytona 500, scored only 5.3 Nielsen, which is the lowest in the history of the sport.
In fact, between 2005 and 2017, the sport's television audience fell by 45 percent, according to an analysis of Nielsen's ratings by SportsBusiness Daily.
That does not mean that NASCAR and the NFL are facing the same problems, but the problems of professional football are clearly more than what Trump considers antipatriot manifestations.
"I think there are a lot of people who have non-sporting reasons to be upset with the NFL," Lewis said. "We have only heard about people who are upset by the anthem protest, but there are also people who are upset by the reaction to the anthem protests, and many people tend to forget this: there are probably a lot of people upset about this. [Goodell’s admitted handling of Ray Rice’s suspension for domestic violence in 2014]. & # 39;
It has seen many NFL fans sports signals that encourage players to stand
NFL rankings have suffered, but NASCAR's have dropped almost 50 percent since 2005
In addition, the NFL continues to fight a concussion crisis after resolving a billion-dollar lawsuit with thousands of former players, both living and deceased, who have struggled with the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI). .
With increasing evidence on the dangers of TBI, sport participation has plummeted 7 percent since its peak in 2009, according to data released today by the National Federation of State Associations of High Schools.
According to NBC News, at this rate, there will be less than 1 million soccer players from high schools in the United States by 2020.
And in April, researchers at the VA Boston Healthcare System and the Boston University School of Medicine discovered that among 211 players diagnosed posthumously with CTE, those who began playing football before age 12 experienced an earlier appearance of the symptoms (typically cognitive behavior) and mood problems) in an average of 13 years.
Unsurprisingly, participation in youth tackle football (from 6 to 17 years) decreased by 19 percent between 2011 and 2016, according to data from the Aspen Institute of the Sports and Physical Fitness Industry Association.
President Donald Trump has harshly criticized the NFL over the past year
Even the legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback, Brett Favre, is calling for youth soccer to be outlawed.
The 48-year-old retiree supports efforts such as an Illinois bill that prohibits anyone under the age of 12 from playing tackle soccer. The Dave Duerson Act to Prevent the CTE, named for the safety of former Chicago footballers who committed suicide after a long battle with the disease, still does not have enough support to pass through Illinois.
Still, Favre, who estimates that he has suffered thousands of concussions, believes that similar legislation is needed at the federal level.
NFL legend Brett Favre is part of a growing movement to end youth soccer in the United States, which could have long-term effects on the league. The participation of young people in sports is low amid concerns about injuries to the head
"The state level is a start, but we have to adopt this plan and we all do it together," Favre told the Daily Mail in June. & # 39; The body, the brain, the skull does not develop in adolescence and with a single digit. I shudder. I see these small children being approached and the helmet is bigger than everything else in the combined child. It looks like they're going to split in half. "
And while declining ratings may be dominating the headlines, Lewis really believes that Nielsen's appearance is being over-emphasized.
Yes, the NFL's ratings decreased by nine and eight percent in 2017 and 2016, respectively. However, compared to the rest of the television industry, which fights popular broadcast services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, the NFL's ratings have been relatively good.
The audience of the league increased in 2017, and according to Deadspin, that percentage was actually the highest it had been last season.
"I'm not necessarily sure why the NFL is so terrified from the ratings perspective," Lewis said. "You can talk about marketing, etc., but from a ratings perspective, the only reason we have TV ratings is for advertisers, advertisers are looking for where to spend their money, if NFL ratings are low, but everything else is under or over, so there's no problem: the NFL is still the best place for advertisers to spend their money. "
According to Nielsen, the C3 ratings of televisions (including DVRs) among the coveted 18-49 age groups fell 16 percent on the four major US networks from December 2016 to December 2017. Cable networks saw an 11 percent decrease overall in that time.
And although the league saw a 12 percent drop in the 18-49 demographic in 2017, networks like NBC and CBS fell 19 percent in that show, according to Nielsen, and would have been much worse if it were not for their programming in the NFL.
In addition, 37 of the 50 best network shows of 2017 were NFL games, and NBC's Sunday Night Football remained the king of the season's ratings for the seventh year in a row, according to Nielsen. That surpasses the previous record set by Fox's "American Idol" between 2005-06 and 2010-11.
Miami Dolphins wide receivers Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson kneel during the national anthem as they prepare to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is the third season of protests in the NFL
The Sunday night soccer games averaged 18.2 million viewers in 2017, a margin of 29 percent over the second place: the "Thursday night" & # 39; of CBS.
Goodell continues to try a series of solutions to address the troubling trends facing the league.
Once again, defensive players in the NFL are grappling with new boarding guidelines in another attempt to reduce head injuries; Facebook and other websites have reached agreements to broadcast NFL games, which could help attract younger viewers; and the protest controversy continues to be debated internally. (The NFL announced a solution in May that would have required players to stand or remain in the locker room during the anthem, but that has been suspended while the league and the players' union negotiate a compromise).
But whatever the solutions, the continued success of the NFL is far from guaranteed.
"The NFL ratings were on the downward slope for a long time from the mid-1990s to the end of the 2000s," Lewis said. "The number of years the NFL was rising and simply dominating everyone was just this decade."
The opening of Thursday's season between defending champion Philadelphia Eagles and visitors Atlanta Falcons is a rematch of a divisional playoff game since last January
THE NFL FACES THE INTEREST OF THE FAN IN THREAT OF THE ANTHEM CONTROVERSY
By Alex Raskin, Sports News Editor for DailyMail.com
After two consecutive seasons of falls in the television audience, the NFL continues to face declining fan interest, as most Americans, particularly whites and Republicans, oppose players kneeling in protest of racism during the national anthem.
According to a new poll by NBC News / Wall Street Journal, fewer people say they follow the league closely today than they did four years ago, and the biggest downfall seems to be those fans who disagree with players who demonstrate awareness of social issues , criminal justice reform and police brutality against minorities.
Of those who participated in the NBC News / Wall Street Journal survey, only 10 percent of Republicans and only 38 percent of white respondents said that protests are appropriate
Of the 900 registered voters, 52 percent said they are closely following the league, which fell from 58 percent in 2014. However, the margin of error was plus or minus 3.27 percentage points, so that figure in itself it may not be too revealing
Other findings help paint a more specific image.
Men over 50 continue to play the game closer than any other demographic group despite their own generally negative opinions about the protests, according to The Wall Street Journal. Those who have stopped watching the game completely tend to be those with the most unfavorable protests.
A Carolina Panthers fan holds up his poster in protest of then Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers in September 2016
Namely, Republicans are the most dissatisfied with the game. In 2014, only 16 percent of Republicans said they did not follow soccer closely, but that number has soared to 39 percent in the latest data.
Only 10 percent of Republicans and only 38 percent of white respondents said they felt the protests were appropriate.
But not everyone is opposed to the protests: 72 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34, a critical demographic, believe that demonstrations are appropriate.
Regardless, the survey still reflects a lower audience base than what we measured in 2014, "Republican pollster Micah Roberts told the Journal. "It's not going in the right direction."
Respondents were not directly asked if their viewing habits changed due to protests, but Roberts, who conducted the survey with Democratic pollster Fred Yang, believes it is a logical conclusion based on the subgroups that saw the biggest changes since 2014 .
"The anthem protests are having an effect on the audience," he told the Journal.
The peaceful demonstrations, which began in 2016, were mainly a reaction to the death of African-American men at the hands of law enforcement. Players are also working to raise awareness about other issues, such as criminal justice reform and educational inequality