Fans are regarding the NFL less favorably as a result of the political debate resulting in kneeling vs. standing during the playing of the national anthem, according to Brand Keys.
The New York-based brand and customer loyalty and engagement research consultancy, polled 1,206 fans in nine NFL markets to take their pulse on the issue.
Fans were asked whether they regarded the NFL more favorably, less favorably, or about the same regarding players kneeling. Twenty-nine percent said more favorably, while 50% said less favorably and 21% said about the same.
“That’s an extraordinarily high ‘negative’ for respondents who have been screened as self-declared fans of the sport,” said Robert Passikoff, Brand Keys founder and president. “Even more so for a brand that has consistently shown up in the top 50 of our annual Most Patriotic Brands survey.”
Being a fan and loyal to a particular sports team is almost entirely driven by emotion, he says. “And patriotism is one of the most powerful emotions one can invoke,” he adds.
When the same question is asked of fans who are also asked whether they identify as a Republican, Democrat or Independent, the results are not surprising. Fifteen percent of Republicans said their feeling were more favorable vs. 40% of Democrats and 30% of Independents. Alternatively, 68% of Republicans said their feelings were less favorable compared to 49% of Democrats and 49% of Independents. Finally, 17% of Republicans said they felt about the same compared to 12% of Democrats and 21% of Independents.
“While our most recent Presidential election, its aftermath, and President Trump’s tweets have raised levels of political debate, it has also raised more contentious issues and divided consumers from their brands,” Passikoff said, “[This is] something the National Football League needs to handle very carefully.”
President Donald Trump attacked NFL players who have protested racial inequality and injustice by not standing for the national anthem before games three weeks ago.
Players, their union leaders and owners will gather today before a regularly scheduled meeting of the league's owners in New York.
A joint statement released last week by the league and the union emphasized that there has been no change to the league’s current policy, which does not require players to stand for the anthem.
The President and his supporters seem to feel that player protests are unpatriotic and disrespectful to the flag and the game, while those who defend the players say the players are exercising their right to free speech, he says. The measured effects to the NFL brand would seem to support the former position.
The basis for the propensity of negative feelings toward the brand when players kneel and don’t stand for the anthem stems from the majority of respondents saying they did not believe the football field was the proper forum for players to raise social issues.
“The majority of respondents (93%) felt the players had every right to freedom of speech and their own opinions,” Passikoff says. “They just didn’t think the football field was the right forum for it.”
The survey was conducted Oct. 1-12 with 1,206 self-declared football fans in nine NFL markets (Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, St. Louis, and Washington) participating in the survey.