Luntz: NFL Ratings Still Robust Because Fans Care More About On-Field Than Off-Field
NFL TV ratings continue to soar in the wake of the league’s domestic violence scandal because football followers care far more about what happens on the field of play than off it, said messaging expert Frank Luntz at the ’14 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference this morning. Luntz has conducted sports focus groups in dozens of cities, and in the last few months has looked at the issue of football and domestic violence. When the Ray Rice TMZ video first broke in early September, many people thought it could hurt the NFL’s popularity. “More than any other sport, (football fans) want to separate things that come off the field versus things that are on the field,” said Luntz, whose firm, Luntz Global Partners, works in politics and sports. “Even for teams that face this in a direct way -- such as Minnesota and Baltimore and Charlotte, teams that have had issues -- fans don’t want to talk about things that are happening off the field during the season. And that is one of the reasons why football continues to get the most incredible ratings.” Asked how the league, and, in particular, Commissioner Roger Goodell, has responded to the crisis, Luntz hesitated. Immediately after Goodell’s first press conference on the issue on September 19, Luntz on Fox Business praised the performance, an outlier opinion, as it turned out. “I don’t live that far from here when I am in New York,” he said. “And all you had to do is walk past the NFL headquarters and you had satellite trucks parked there for days. There is a certain rule of thumb: If '60 Minutes' calls and wants to interview you, you are (in trouble). If you have more than one satellite truck in front of your office, you have got a real problem. So obviously there is an issue there. We will be able to judge this, what happens, over the coming months with the conduct policy.” Luntz has strenuously denied a Deadspin report he helped Goodell prepare for that press conference. The NFL also denies it, and the report itself was attributed to one source familiar with Goodell.
* On NASCAR driver fights: “I think I am watching hockey now when I am watching NASCAR. This is very dangerous, I think. This undercuts the family environment that NASCAR has always promoted and NASCAR has always experienced. I am hoping they are checking this ... if they are not this could be a brand killer. ... If the perception is that these drivers can fight and there is nothing wrong with it, watch what will happen in the stands in a year.”
* On MLB saying its polling shows the league is doing fine at attracting younger fans: “Really, can you explain to me why there are three Viagra ads in the (broadcast) of the World Series? That is for young people? Baseball fans are older, and I think it is because -- in fact, I know it is because of the length of the game.”