Donald Trump’s attacks on the NFL don’t seem to be affecting the league’s bottom line, but that isn’t stopping him from making an issue of players kneeling to protest racial injustice.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Monday that he hadn’t looked at Sunday’s attendance figures, but last week showed that there has been no impact.
Lockhart said the figures are “right within range.’’
Then Trump had a press conference Monday afternoon and said his comments are having an impact.
“The people of our country are very angry at the NFL,’’ he said. “All you have to do is look at the ratings, look at the stadiums. You see empty seats where you never saw them before.’’
Lockhart had already said there aren’t all these empty seats that Trump says there are.
As long as Trump’s comments don’t affect their bottom line, they aren’t likely to be a major issue for the NFL.
At a meeting Tuesday in New York with the owners and the players to discuss ways to address the players’ concern, the idea of trying to stop the players from kneeling never even came up.
That prompted Trump to knock the NFL in another tweet Wednesday, but the NFL would be best to ignore him. His tweets are just Trump being Trump.
Trump also said Monday that instead of firing players for kneeling, they should suspend them for one game for kneeling, two games for a second offense and so forth.
The NFL isn’t likely to take his advice.
Attendance does vary throughout the league depending on whether a team is winning. But there seems to be no evidence of widespread boycotting of the NFL.
A survey by J.D. Power & Associates last year said only three percent of fans who don’t attend NFL games cited the protests as an issue.
Lockhart said the TV ratings were a mixed bag last week, but TV ratings were a problem last year before Trump made it an issue. They are down 7.5 percent over last year, but the protests are probably having little effect on the TV ratings.
Trump even knocked Hillary Clinton for saying “protests are part of American life,’’ saying that attitude is one of the reasons she lost.
Even when attendance does drop off, it is likely losing is more of a problem than fans being unhappy with the protests.
For example, the Jaguars sold only 56,232 tickets for the Rams game Sunday, their lowest total since 2009 before Shad Khan bought the team. The team had six games that drew fewer than 50,000 fans that year and prompted then-mayor John Peyton to start a ticket-selling drive. Khan then began a major ticket drive when he bought the team and upgraded the stadium.
The Jaguars sold 61,709 tickets for the opener, but then the first game is usually a good draw. The Jaguars don’t announce how many fans actually attended, although they said a higher percentage of ticket buyers attended Sunday than they did for the opener.
The Jaguars record of late and the fans’ unhappiness with the play of quarterback Blake Bortles were probably bigger factors than the Trump comments for the dropoff in attendance.
The Jaguars sell most of their ticket packages before the season starts — long before Trump got involved. The next two home games against Cincinnati and the Los Angeles Chargers are also likely to draw in the mid-50,000s.
And they have won only one playoff game since 1999. At some point, it gets difficult to sell tickets even with low ticket prices in a small market when the team keeps losing year after year.
Another problem is that the Rams, who moved to Los Angeles from St. Louis a year, don’t have fans that travel with the team. It’s easier to sell tickets when teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and New England Patriots visit.
This year the team is on a win-one-lose-one treadmill, even though the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South at 3-3. Jacksonville is a conservative military town, so some fans are unhappy with the protests and the team even apologized to military officials because some players knelt on foreign soil in London, but they would have been better off to defend what they did because they thought it was the right thing to do.
If the Jaguars start winning consistently and have problems drawing 60,000, that would be a troubling sign. For now, they’ve got to think winning will solve the attendance problem.