Question the timing? Cowboys add new wrinkle to (non-) anthem protest

Alternate headline: Market incentives promote innovation. Stuck between a labor force outraged by Donald Trump’s remarks on Friday and a fan base outraged over disrespect to the American flag, the Dallas Cowboys came up with a new twist on the protests. Why not kneel before the anthem, rather than during it? Would that satisfy everyone?


No, of course not, but give them credit for creativity … or at least discovering the obvious:

The Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals put their own twist on recognizing the national anthem before their “Monday Night Football” game in Glendale, Ariz.

The Cowboys, joined by team owner Jerry Jones and his sons, interlocked arms and walked about 10 yards toward the middle of the field. They then took a knee collectively and were loudly booed. They then stood in unision, unlocked arms and returned to the sideline where they stood for the duration of the anthem.

The crowd booed loudly, then cheered as a field-sized American flag was unfurled. …

In the wake of comments by President Trump last week that players who didn’t stand for the anthem should be fired, every NFL team responded with some type of show of unity or protest. The Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans stayed in their respective locker rooms during the flag ceremonies.

Let’s not forget that this fad had largely faded away before Trump brought it up on Friday. The previous weekend, only an estimated 10 players had kneeled during the anthem. Two days after Trump’s comments, there were twice as many team owners taking part in the demonstrations. Every team had some form of protest, and all but the Cowboys during the anthem. (The Steelers managed to fumble theirs so badly that a three-tour veteran apologized for standing for the anthem. Sheesh.)


Here’s one measure of just how far the fad has expanded now:

Great job, everyone!

Back to the Cowboys’ innovation: did it work? Clearly the crowd at the game wasn’t impressed with the change. That’s because they paid (a lot) to see a football game, not a social-justice parade, plus it was a demonstration by the visiting team, which made the boos all the more natural. Many object to the message, which they see as a blanket condemnation of police in general — and a pointless exercise even for that cause.  The players now say they are protesting racism in general, and this week Trump’s disrespect for them. It’s tough to see what kneeling does for either, especially when used as a symbolic response to a supposedly authoritarian ruler, but, er … YMMV. I guess it beats a “hey hey, ho ho, XXX has got to go” chant.

However, for those whose objection centered entirely on disrespect for the flag, this seems to be a reasonable compromise. The players get to have their say on the field, and then everyone salutes the flag. Had the protest taken this form from the beginning, we’d be debating the merits of the claim rather than patriotism and respect for the country. It certainly satisfies my objections to the fad, even if I disagree with some of the particulars of the protests, which is what debate is supposed to handle.


Don’t think for one moment that this innovation isn’t more closely related to business interests than comity for its own sake, though. Jerry Jones wants to look woke, but he also wants his TV and gate revenue, too. In a Politifact article which gives Trump’s claim that ratings are “WAY down” a Mostly False grade, we discover that ratings and attendance are … significantly down from 2016:

Advertising Age media reporter Anthony Crupi told us he estimated a decline of around 9 percent in ratings since last year, although the only window to face a significant decline was the 1 p.m. regional games.

But we only have full data for the first two weeks of the season — the first of which was likely impacted by Hurricane Irma — making the data set too small to draw any conclusions according to Paulsen, editor in chief of Sports Media Watch. (Paulsen’s professional name is simply Paulsen.)

Average attendance for 2017 thus far is also down — by 5 percent, while gross attendance is off 8 percent from 2016.

Trump might be referring to 2016, a year when the NFL saw a significant drop in viewership, although average game attendance increased by 3 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Trump might have been referring to Sunday Night Football’s overnight ratings, which cratered on the Day of Grand Protests. The Wrap only grudgingly connects those dots:

NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” ratings took a bit of a knee last night, slipping 10 percent in TV ratings versus the comparable Week 3 of 2016.

Sunday’s Oakland Raiders-Washington Redskins game brought in an 11.6 rating/20 share in 54 of the 56 markets metered by Nielsen. There are a few Florida cities still behind in reporting their local ratings, due to Hurricane Irma’s devastation in the Sunshine State.

Last night’s game was a bit of a blowout, with Washington leading 21-0 in the 3rd quarter. That never helps. Perhaps the day’s large-scale player protests played a (small) factor, too.


Business Insider makes that connection look a little stronger:

The NFL has been suffering from repeated year-over-year declines in TV ratings. In the first week of this season, the league saw a 12% drop in ratings, which was followed by a 15% one in week two, according to Nielsen.

NFL ratings were down an average of 8% over the course of last season.

Last season, the most prominent explanation the league gave for the drop was “unprecedented interest in the presidential election.” While ratings did improve slightly after the election, this explanation is only one in a series of excuses that experts have given for the league’s bad ratings, which have continued since.

Last week, a Jefferies analyst speculated that a 10% drop in ratings over the course of the 2o17 season would go on to cut $200 million in earnings from the networks broadcasting NFL games this year.

This may be the real reason that Jones wants to move the protests ahead of the anthem. Not only does that solve the issue of disrespect for the flag, it will put the demonstration prior to the point when television coverage on the field begins. The people in the stadium will have to endure it, but the all-important television audience will mostly miss it, at least live. That’s also a creative solution to market incentives that the NFL can no longer afford to ignore.

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