SBJ Football: Impact Of Player Protest Movement Unclear For NFL
This morning, White House advisor Jared Kushner said of NBA players protesting: “I'd like to see them start moving into concrete solutions that are productive.” Either he really doesn’t know how much they’ve already done, or he’s pretending to be ignorant. Either explanation is a problem for a man in his position.
WHERE WILL NFL, TEAMS COME DOWN ON PLAYER PROTEST MOVEMENT?
- As several NFL teams delayed or canceled practice in the wake of the NBA impromptu wildcat strike last night, NFL Exec VP Troy Vincent Sr. pled for the league’s owners to join players in the cause against police brutality in an ESPN Radio interview this morning.
- “Now, how do we address this together?” Vincent told hosts Keyshawn Johnson and Jay Williams. “We need your influence as an owner, to bridge that gap for us. We need you to talk to the (district attorney), we need to have conversations with local, state officials. We need you to address police reform.”
- On the owners’ commitment to the players’ cause, Vincent said: “Many are there, and I must say in full transparency, many are not. Because they think it’s a disruption of the business.” As of noon ET, no owners or Commissioner Roger Goodell had weighed in.
- The player protest movement’s effect on the NFL is still coming into focus early this afternoon. At least seven teams canceled practice today -- the Packers, Broncos, Titans, Bears, Washington, Cardinals and Jets. Kickoff is two weeks from today, and it seems impossible to predict how this movement will evolve by then.
SAINTS SET TO HIRE AGENCY TO SELL SUPERDOME NAMING RIGHTS
- After initially going it alone, the Saints are soliciting agency help to sell naming rights to the Superdome after Mercedes-Benz’s deal expires in 2021, industry sources tell me. In May, the automaker, which also entitles the Falcons' venue in Atlanta, confirmed it would not renew its 10-year deal in New Orleans.
- At the time, the Saints had planned to handle things in-house. But that’s changed, and the usual suspects have been invited to pitch, sources said, including Elevate Sports Ventures, WME Sports, Excel Sports Management and Oak View Group. A decision could be imminent, though the Saints declined to comment.
- Experts would usually expect the price of naming rights to decline for a second generation deal, especially for a facility as old as the Superdome. But the Saints believe they can get an increase on the current deal (roughly $5 million annually) for several reasons: A $450 million renovation is coming; NCAA hosting duties for 2022 men's Final Four, Super Bowl LVIII in 2024, and the Sugar Bowl/CFP rotation. “They’re always in the cultural conversation,” one source said. The area's small corporate base will be a challenge; the state of Louisiana has only two Fortune 500 companies -- CenturyLink and Entergy -- with an HQ in the state.
LOCAL POLITICIANS NOT EAGER TO RISK FANS IN STANDS -- FOR NOW
- The question of whether to open NFL stadiums is framed as a public health debate, but it’s really a political issue. That’s why the overwhelming majority of teams are simply saying no for now, unable to twist the arms of risk-averse mayors and governors. It’s also why teams are mostly falling in line behind a standard position -- there’s little desire to be an outlier if anything goes wrong.
- Nashville Mayor John Cooper yesterday appeared on sports talk radio network WGFX-FM, where host Jonathan Hutton compared attending games at Nissan Stadium (not allowed) to the city’s Black Lives Matter protests (encouraged), saying they seem to carry similar risks. “People being confused,” Hutton said. “Do you understand why people are confused, and people are angry?”
- Cooper got around to explaining that Titans game attendance is not a constitutionally protected right like protesting, but his first instinct was to find political safety in numbers. “Half of the NFL teams are having no fans at the start of the season, right?” he said, listing every other team that won’t have fans. “This is not a Nashville response, this a national response to a pandemic.”
- Stripping away the politics, many venue operators believe they’ve found a level of acceptable risk: Cap attendance in the low 10,000s, separate groups of fans and rigidly enforce mask mandates. In open-air stadiums, those small crowds would face a risk comparable to a medium-sized retail stores, one team exec said.
- But these decisions can’t be separated from everything else happening in cities or states. Politicians have to be able to explain their decisions in a unique local context -- with so many schools still using remote-learning only (as they are in Nashville), and the hospitality industry still facing so many restrictions, it’s hard to justify opening NFL stadiums. In that environment, don’t count on stadiums opening until there’s a clear, sustained improvement trend in COVID case counts.
MORE DRAMA FOR DAN SNYDER IN D.C.
- I wasn’t the only person confused by the response to the Washington Post’s latest expose on a toxic work environment inside the Washington Football Team. Owner Daniel Snyder issued a combative statement calling it a “hit job,” while the team itself followed up with a softer statement promising accountability and reform. I understand the team is a brand distinct from any individual, but Snyder is the sole majority owner and he promised a more hands-on role. It’s not at all clear to me what the difference is in practice.
- The Washington storyline is moving quickly, and questions I’ll be asking my sources include: Are NFL owners or Commissioner Roger Goodell any closer to forcing a sale than in the past? Can the league get away with allowing a Snyder-selected lawyer to be the primary investigator, or will they be forced to launch their own?
- One has to assume the odds are still against Snyder selling the team. But this story has momentum in ways it lacked in the past. Look to a piece from The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones today, arguing that D.C. should be the launchpad for a comprehensive “Me Too” investigation across the entire league.
CFL COMMISH TALKS CANCELED SEASON, RELATIONSHIP WITH PLAYERS
- The CFL was forced to cancel its 2020 season a week ago, and while Commissioner Randy Ambrosie called conversations with Canada’s government “generally very positive,” he stressed his disappointment that the league failed to procure federal funding after a monthslong process. “I really felt through those late stages that it was going to happen. I really did,” Ambrosie told SBJ's Andrew Levin. “The only characterization I’m comfortable with -- quite frankly, in the end -- is that I was disappointed with the outcome because we really had good reason to have expectations that we’d see success.”
- Ambrosie also discussed the league’s relationship with its players, calling it “complicated.” He explained, “We’ve done a pretty good job and we’re talking frequently and there’s a lot of desire to do really well together there. But you get this distance because, by law, you can’t communicate directly with the players. You’re prevented from that.” Ambrosie admitted: “Quite honestly, I would have liked to have had a chance to have more direct contact with the players and really hear their concerns. ... Can we do a lot better on this? You bet. I think that’s the entire focus now.”
- Ambrosie also addressed several other football-related matters. On the Edmonton Eskimos undergoing a rebranding, similar to that of the Washington Football Team: “I respect the decision that the teams made. Obviously, these are changing times. We’re all adapting.” On the upcoming NFL season: “I’m optimistic that with the resources they have at their disposal and the great people that are leading that league that they’ll have a successful outcome.”
- For more break down from Ambrosie, check out today’s “SBJ Unpacks: The Road Ahead” podcast at 4:00pm ET.
"Hard Knocks" will set a record low for viewership this season on HBO as the series encounters live sports competition it hasn’t dealt with in the past, writes SBJ's Austin Karp. All three episodes to date have been record lows for the show, with Tuesday night's third episode of the Rams/Chargers season drawing a new low of 179,000 viewers. With only two episodes remaining, "Hard Knocks' is averaging 234,000 viewers for the premiere episodes, down 66% from the same point last season for the Raiders. These figures do not include streaming, as the newly launched HBO Max is not releasing those figures this season.
FanDuel expects to lose $185-210 million this year as the company embarks on an "aggressive" customer acquisition spree around the NFL season, according to Legal Sports Report. The company pledged a “very significant step-up in marketing activity” around NFL betting this season.
Will election season have a big viewership impact on the 2020 NFL season's TV numbers, similar to 2016? ESPN Research's Flora Kelly had this nugget on Twitter: "Cable news continues to see elevated audiences through the late summer. Since March, audiences across CNN, MSNBC and FOXNC are up 49%. It’s important to remember that cable news is heavily driven by older viewers. 85% of all viewing comes from those age 50 and over."
Chiefs President Mark Donovan, speaking to the K.C. Star, had this to say on fans wearing Native American headdresses or imagery at games: "Everybody is going to have opinions on all these issues, and I respect that. But for me personally, I didn’t understand what a headdress or a war bonnet was. I didn’t understand what it represented. And to have an American Indian explain the sacredness of that and how every single feather is earned and what it means in their community, it’s a pretty easy answer. Let’s educate people.”
Which NFL teams are engaging the best with their fans on Twitter this offseason? SportsAtlas, SBJ's sister publication, found that the Bengals are at the top of the list, which makes sense considering that No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow has energized that fan base. But what’s more interesting is to see that three of the five teams in that top group had losing records last year. Check out SportsAtlas' complete report on which teams are providing the most value on social.
Don’t miss our NFL preview in Monday’s SBJ, where I explore the question: What if COVID disrupts the season? Things are looking good in training camp, but it will be a high-wire act all season, and the entire sports industry is counting on the NFL to pull it off.
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