Is Politics Killing the NFL?

I should say right off that I don’t know the answer to this question. It’s been an issue for the past couple of years, gaining momentum in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick’s protest coincided with the tapering off of TV ratings for the NFL. The problem is that ratings are a terrible way to judge league performance. Maybe it’s boring games. Maybe it’s weak teams in big markets. Who knows? It’s especially a problem because ratings are down for all the major sports leagues. Ratings are also down for ESPN. Hell, ratings are down for TV, period.

I was pondering this a couple of days ago, trying to think of a better way to measure the NFL’s popularity. I gave up on ratings pretty quickly. There’s no question that the league and the owners care about ratings, but it’s a rat’s nest. So what better measures exist?

A reasonable proxy might be the average value of a team franchise. This has issues too—small sample size, contested estimates, and the propensity of billionaires to buy teams for noneconomic reasons—but it’s still probably not bad. Any good capitalist recognizes that price signals incorporate all information about the value of a product, and that should work for sports teams too. The National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University provides estimates since 2000, but we’re mostly interested in more recent valuations. So here they are for the past five years:

Basketball’s impressive performance is mostly due to Steve Ballmer’s astonishing $2 billion purchase of the LA Clippers in 2014 after Donald Sterling was forced out of the league following the leak of racist remarks.

Baseball and football have roughly the same performance, with average team value more than doubling in the past five years. Hockey brings up the rear.

If this is meaningful, it suggests that the NFL is doing fine. Team value has been rising pretty steadily, with no evident slowdown in the past couple of years. In terms of growth, they trail only the NBA, and not by that much if you discount the Ballmer outlier. Obviously this could change, and it’s plausible that inertia might keep team values high for a while even after ratings and popularity have peaked. Tentatively, though, I’d suggest the NFL hasn’t been hurt much by politics so far.

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate