The state of Texas loves high school, college, and professional football more than just about any state in the country. This means Texas is a bellwether for heartland support for NFL football. That's why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys and Bob McNair of the Houston Texans have to be terrified of the poll results released this morning by the Texas Tribune, a non-partisan journalistic entity in the state, and the University of Texas.
You can read that entire article about the poll results here, but the headline is remarkable: "Football is popular in Texas. The NFL isn't."
According to that poll Texans have a 26% favorable rating and a 47% unfavorable rating of the NFL. That is, the NFL has a net unfavorability rating in Texas of -21.
In Texas, the heartbeat of football!
What's next Alabama hating college football?
Among white Texans the NFL's unfavorable rating is 55% (20% favorable) and among Hispanics the rate is 39% (29% favorable). Black Texans still have a 49% favorable rating against 24% unfavorable rating, but they are a substantial minority of the overall population. (Interestingly, I would bet the NFL used to be well above 50% among all races prior to Colin Kaepernick's protest turning the NFL political. This suggests that black Texans haven't been impacted as much by the politicization of the NFL in general and that much of the racial angst surrounding Colin Kaepernick's protest, at least in Texas, is artificially trumped up media division not reflected in reality.)
This is why Jerry Jones and Bob McNair have been so outspoken about the need for the NFL to resolve the anthem mess. Because they see the people who support their teams falling out of love with the NFL's brand all over their state. It's also why I have been arguing so forcefully that players, coaches, and owners becoming enmeshed in politics is awful for the pro sports leagues, the NFL in particular. It's the thesis of my new book coming out this September, "Republicans Buy Sneakers, Too."
Sticking to sports, while unpopular on social media, is actually extremely popular with the masses and it's good for business.
Whether you love or hate Donald Trump, he's won this with the NFL over the national anthem. The majority of American sports fans believe players should stand for the national anthem. Trump's adroitly exploited this issue to rally his base and drive voter support for Republicans higher. And the NFL has crumbled in the face of this onslaught, losing the foundation of their fan base, the heartbeat of American football fandom; they've lost the state of Texas.
Over the past two years NFL TV ratings for both the regular season and the playoffs have dropped nearly 20% -- a drop we haven't seen for the NBA, the college football playoff, the NCAA Tournament or the NHL playoffs -- and this past year NFL TV partners missed revenue projections due to plummeting ratings by over $600 million.
Those are all horrible signs for the NFL's business.
The people protesting on behalf of Colin Kaepernick on social media? Most of them won't sit and watch a single NFL game on Sunday. They aren't sports fans, they're political agitators who have grabbed onto sports as just another battlefield. To them, everything is political, even sports, which haven't been political for nearly fifty years. That's because sports are our American meritocracy, the one place where race, gender, class, political opinions, and sexual orientation don't matter. The best man (or woman) wins.
Over the past decade we've seen two worlds emerge -- the fake one on social media, which distorts public opinion like a funhouse mirror at a carnival, and the real life one, which reflects the pocketbook decisions of ordinary Americans, the kinds of people not monitoring Twitter trends all day long, the kinds of people who sit and watch the NFL all day long on Sundays in Texas.
Or at least the kinds of people who used to do that.
So far the vast majority of the American sports media has covered the funhouse mirror as if it accurately reflects reality and ignored the real world.
Well, the truth in the real world is this, the NFL's business is under assault and unless the league, and its commissioner Roger Goodell, makes smarter decisions soon about how to deal with the anthem and player protests, the NFL's popularity is going to continue to decline.
Because if you're a football league and you've lost Texas, you've lost your base. And if a business loses its base, trouble will follow no matter what industry you're competing in, sports or otherwise.
When you look at these Texas poll results, you don't have to circumcise a mosquito to figure out the lesson here: the NFL is in danger of becoming all hat, no cattle.