The NFL Has a Problem, And It Is Not The Protest

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 18: Eric Reid #35 and Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers kneel on the sideline, during the anthem, prior to the game against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on September 18, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the 49ers 46-27. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

The NFL has a problem. Where the protests this past weekend have inspired many to think and take sides, the NFL should be wary about people questioning the value they offer.

The problem the NFL has is not the protest, but the imagery.  Instead of images or highlights of humans doing amazing feats of skill, which people love, the ubiquitous image is people kneeling in protest. A few people get fired up for those images while far more, and a large core of viewers, may be turned off.  In a competitive landscape like entertainment, these images only add to the high cost of watching the NFL.

Avg Cost, Family of Four, 2015
Avg Cost, Family of Four, 2015

The average ticket to an NFL game these days is $93 face value, up from $62 in 2006.  Unfortunately, those tickets are rarely available but through a sanctioned secondary market for about $165 each.  A beer will set you back $10-$15 at most places and if you want to park in the lot your taxes helped build, you better bring an extra $100.  You get the point, it’s damn expensive to attend the NFL experience made up mostly of watching a bunch of people stand around in some grass.

Time commitment has also continued to grow.  To watch the 11 minutes the ball is in action at home, you need to commit nearly three and half hours of your day.  During that 252 minutes of a TV broadcast, you will be peppered with commercials numbering anywhere from 100-115.  That doesn’t include the in-game marketing and, if you’re lucky enough, find out about the new stars and upcoming shows on FOX.

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More recently, and an unknown variable in viewing habits, the definitive link between football and brain injuries has exposed the risk of playing.  Even if players voluntarily participate in exchange for glory and money, celebrating the impact of a crushing hit takes on a psychological cost knowing it may have created a walking pumpkin a few decades from now.

Now add to the mix the cost of being forced to think.  Many people tune into sports to enjoy a break away from the pressures of life; to focus their existence on the outcome of two teams imposing their will against the other.  To awe at humans displaying skills we can only make up in our fantasies.

The questions the protesters inspire are good.  Sparking people and discuss (if this actually happened) is great. But the NFL should be worried.   If their customer base starts to think what an additional $500 saved from not attending a game could do for the next family vacation, or how spending time outdoors on a Sunday is actually a pleasure, it could be damaging to their business model.

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