NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has a mess on his hands.
The league is declining on his watch, and he has no answers.
And after this latest gut punch, the league will have to do some serious soul-searching in the off-season.
Stadium attendance is down, yet again—and big time. Fans didn’t even show up in strong numbers for games that had massive playoff implications.
For sixteen weeks fewer fans than ever have turned out to attend football games in person at stadiums across the nation, but this week the NFL finally has a reason for a lot of empty seats.
With game-day temperatures at subzero chills all over the east and Midwest, it was a good reason to stay indoors.
Of course, many fans found the temperature excuse less than convincing because attendance has been dismal all year and this weekend, chill or no, there were still a lot of empty NFL seats for a Week 17 in a Winter month that everyone should just assume might be cold. Hardy fans have turned out in worse in years past, after all.
Whatever the reason, there are empty seats galore all across the league.
Even as the Cowboys trekked to Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field to face the Eagles, the stands seemed fairly empty of fans as the Cowboys topped a scoreless home team 6-0.
0-0 at the half #Week17 #NFL RT @JamieRhicard: Not many people sticking around for the 2nd half of this barn burner in Philly! @[me]
The New York Giants fared no better as the Washington Redskins came to MetLife Stadium only to lose in an 18-10 final. Lots of empty seats were on hand as the teams battled below.
Words of Wisdom: “No one is too big to fall.” Look at today’s @NFL @Giants game… #OperationGhostTown. 75% EMPTY SEATS. Why? Patrons of NFL decided they had enough. Boycotted. See where im going @johnlegend / @chrissyteigen ? Att: @LizCrokin
Meanwhile, Green Bay Packers fans joined fans of the Detroit Lions by staying home as the pair went head-to-head at Ford Field with a Lions win 35-11.
Lions #NFL RT @mark_snyder: @[me] compliments of my 66 year old uncle who is at the game today so please forgive the blurriness. Packers fans usually travel en mass to Detroit when the team plays there but they can even be bothered today.
Though the anti-American protests have dwindled, they still persist in pockets around the league. Nevertheless, the damage has already been done.
TV ratings are still declining sharply as well.
For no matter how the hoopla of the playoffs and the Super Bowl may disguise it, the league is in trouble, based on its track record of negativity for the season.
TV ratings are down, sponsors and advertisers are worried, player concerns are largely unmollified, and attendance in many cities is spotty. The NFL is a league that relies on ever-increasing numbers and television ratings for its momentum. No matter how they dress up the situation, every key indicator of fan interest – which is the true driver of the league – has an arrow pointing down.
The core fans are getting older and angrier; youth leagues are losing players over concussion and CTE concerns, and younger adults don’t care to spend time watching a four-hour game; sports rights acquisitions may produce less revenue in the future as the audience diminishes; and the players who make up the league can’t even be induced with a $100 million donation to their causes to stop angering their base with national anthem protests.
Roger Goodell let all of these issues fester. Despite pushback from maverick owner Jerry Jones, the league owners rewarded Goodell with a lucrative new extension.
It’s incumbent on him to fix these problems before the league loses too much credibility.