During the 2016 National Football League (NFL) season, San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made national headlines for kneeling during game opening National Anthem performances. His purpose was to protest the systematic oppression of black people in America, particularly the issue of police brutality. Although he pursues a noble cause using his First Amendment free speech rights, since the season ended Kaepernick has been without an NFL job. For perspective, it took Plaxico Burress two days and Michael Vick 17 days to get signed after serving over 20 months in prison each. In a league that has given numerous chances to felons, domestic abusers, and substance abusers, the blackballing of a player who used the visibility of professional sports to peacefully bring awareness to an issue is particularly troubling. In response, black leaders such as Shaun King of Black Lives Matter have called for a boycott of the NFL. Boycotts, if executed correctly, can make it economically unfeasible for a decision maker to ignore the cause of tension. For those considering boycotting the NFL, an effective boycott should be focused on impacting television revenue, which is the NFL’s largest source of revenue.
Since March when Kaepernick opted out of his contract with the 49ers, only two NFL teams have shown serious interest in him, the Seattle Seahawks and the Baltimore Ravens. The Seahawks invited Kaepernick to a workout in June, but instead signed Austin Davis, a journeyman who was unsigned the entire 2016 season. Head Coach Pete Carroll, who has aided in the development of elite quarterbacks such as Matt Leinart and Russell WIlson, remarked during an interview that Kaepernick has the talent of a starter. The Ravens were in need of a capable backup quarterback after longtime starter Joe Flacco sustained a back injury during the offseason. According to ESPN’s Dianna Russini, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome supported the potential signing of Kaepernick, but owner Steve Bisciotti was against it. The Ravens ultimately signed David Olson, a former Stanford and Clemson Quarterback who threw only three passes in his entire college career, completing one. Kaepernick has a solid NFL resume; he led the 49ers to the 2012 Super Bowl and threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions after reclaiming his starting job for the last ten weeks of the 2016 season. When Kaepernick’s resume is compared to other quarterbacks that have received contracts this offseason, the lack of interest in signing him seems less about his playing ability and more about his protests.
The NFL sustained a revenue of around $13.3 Billion in 2015, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has set the goal of further increasing league revenue to $25 Billion by 2027. According to Greg McFarlane of Investopedia, about two-thirds of the NFL’s revenue, in the ballpark of $8.87 Billion, comes from television revenue. The NFL’s television revenue is derived from short term contracts with television broadcasters (CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.), cable packages, and mobile webcasts. According to Nielsen Media Research, Black men and women comprise the second largest demographic of NFL television observers, preceded only by White men and women. In 2016, Nielsen reported 7.1 million NFL full regular season viewers, aged 18-49. Of that population, black people comprise 1.2 million viewers or 17.3 percent of the group.
Due to the amount of black viewers and the large percentage of NFL revenue that television is responsible for, a boycott focused on television views could be particularly effective. It should be organized by coordinating a mass cancellation or refusal of cable packages, mobile webcasts, and by simply not tuning into NFL media on home televisions. This would decimate the NFL television revenue by eliminating a large portion of their second largest viewer population. This would impact the NFL at large, and put pressure on NFL owners who looked down upon the public stance Colin Kaepernick took on police brutality. A second order effect could be a decrease in the value of advertisement bids to the NFL, as companies broadcasting to NFL audiences will reach smaller audiences, diminishing the effectiveness of the advertisement. The long term effect may not lead to an NFL job for Colin Kaepernick, but it may cause NFL teams to second guess turning down outspoken players in the future, for fear of financial repercussion.
Regardless of method or reason for protesting, Black people in America are unfairly seen as militant when they take a stance. This narrative is reflective of the way Colin Kaepernick, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, and other public figures have been perceived. Different from other ethnic groups, Black people have to be uniquely hyper aware of the perceptions painted by their thoughts on social matters, particularly in the age of social media. Black buying power is projected to rise to new highs in 2017 of around $1.2 Trillion, making Black America the 15th largest economy in the world by Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Protesting the NFL by leveraging the rising spending power of Black people, as opposed to outwardly observable means of protest, will prove to be effective by making a dent in NFL owner’s pockets while also protecting the livelihood of Black people sympathetic to Colin Kaepernick’s circumstance. When the boycott is organized, will you participate?