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Volume 21 No. 1
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Can NFL owners move on from rancor?

As NFL owners meet this week for their last scheduled gathering of the season, they will have to wade through the negative currents splashing over their once impregnable sport (see related story).

Notwithstanding the issues from anthem-related protests to declining TV ratings, the owners’ compensation committee rebuffed efforts to slow down Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract and agreed on a five-year extension to 2024 worth as much as $200 million with incentives (Goodell’s current deal expires in March 2019).

Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner, threatened to sue the league over an extension, but this week, he will walk into the Dallas owners meeting knowing he lost the compensation battle, and ruffled more than a few feathers. In the end, Jones found himself with only one principal ally, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, sources said. Will that cause a permanent rift within ownership?

“There will be owners who will be very bothered by one owner criticizing, or directing such pointed commentary to another owner; there will be other owners who say this is business,” said Amy Trask, former CEO of the Oakland Raiders, who expects that owners will move on. “There will be rapprochement.”

There are many issues chipping away at the league, from cord cutting, to product saturation (pro and college), and health and safety concerns. But undoubtedly the issue of patriotism and the national anthem has hurt the league’s reputation.

“Engagement in politics, it’s proven that it doesn’t matter what side you are on, you will alienate some people,” said John Tatum, CEO of Genesco Sports Enterprises, which advises companies and teams on sports sponsorships. “Things go in cycles and right now they are in a tough cycle.”

Despite the downturn, the NFL remains in a position of great strength with ratings still far and away the best in sports. Owners are expected to approve a new deal with Verizon that will end the carrier’s exclusivity to stream games on phones. Still, Verizon’s payment is rising from $250 million annually to $380 million annually, a source said.


Favorable/unfavorable NFL ratings evidence of difficult season

Since the start of the preseason, the number of fans who have a favorable impression of the NFL dropped by nearly a third to 59 percent as of last week, and the number with an unfavorable impression tripled to 33 percent, according to polling data provided exclusively to SportsBusiness Journal by Morning Consult.

Sentiment has been fluid throughout the season.

The league’s favorable rankings were high to start the season, but after peaking at 83 percent during the preseason, the percentage of fans who viewed the league favorably dropped to as low as 53 percent in September after President Donald Trump attacked kneeling players, according to Morning Consult data. Since then, the percentage having a favorable impression of the NFL has fluctuated to as low as 52 percent to as high as 68 percent, before coming back down to below 60 percent last week. Those who view the NFL unfavorably also peaked at an eye-opening 40 percent in the weeks after Trump’s comment. The unfavorable numbers improved for the league, falling into the 20 percent range, but began climbing again, into the 30 percent range as of last week, according to Morning Consult.

Morning Consult monitors consumer sentiment of 980 brands, through the fielding of online surveys. About 300 respondents a day took part in the NFL-themed survey

— Daniel Kaplan