NFL Protests Fail to Consider the Consumer Side of Things
So after several days of digesting the latest round of NFL National Anthem protests, I found it hard to shake my annoyance. Not at the players message, but at their chosen time of protest. I say this not as political statement, but as a consumer statement.
As a paying NFL customer (Eagles season ticket holder since 2003) I expect to watch football, not political protest. I along with thousands of American’s hand over money for ever-increasing tickets that come with no guarantee of happiness (trust me, I was at two of the Eagles three consecutive NFC Championship losses in the early 2000s). They then bang me for nearly 10 bucks a beer and food entrees for anything that isn’t a hot dog, are at least $10 bucks a pop. An extra cheese cup for Crab Fries is $2!
My point is that I agree to pay the exorbitant ticket prices, I agree to get bilked for a sandwich and a soda, and I even agree to pay $25 to park. In return for this, I have certain expectations of my consumer experience. Actually, I have really one expectation and that is that the men on the field who are being paid handsomely for their services put forth the best effort possible. They are the employees of the organization who I am paying for a service, so I think that is a fair consumer expectation.
For me, and I venture to guess most of the thousands of other fans who spend their money to purchase some of the NFL experience do so because they love football and the product on the field makes all of the other bilking the organization does worth it. That’s why I renew my tickets each year. Andy Reid’s 4-12 final season notwithstanding, I have felt like the juice has been worth the squeeze.
That being said, if I wanted to see political discourse on Sunday, I would have saved my money and noshed my way through some C-Span. The reality is that since 2003, the nature of my consumer relationship with the Eagles and by association the NFL has been pretty well understood. The game day experience was about the game. I pay for the tickets, the parking, the beer, the food and in return I get the best athletes in the world performing live in front of me for the afternoon.
What these players are doing is not about the game and in fact is a distraction from the product that I have purchased. It is in that vein that I feel that without my knowledge or consent, the NFL has decided to change the nature of our consumer relationship by making itself a political pulpit.
Many who are in support of the players will cite the players right to exercise their First Amendment rights. I am a huge proponent of the First Amendment. I don’t think that free expression should ever be thwarted by legal means. While I fully support anyone's right to expression, I just don't see why these players choose to do this while they are at work. I know that most of us in the real world would lose our jobs for political protest during the work day. Is it fame that gives these players a special exemption and makes my rights as a consumer less important?
What else I find interesting, is the false narrative of the NFL being a protector of free speech.
The NFL stifles expression when it sees fit.
A few seasons back DeAngelo Williams was told that he could not wear pink as a tribute to his mother who died of breast cancer except during breast cancer awareness month. Players and coaches have often been fined for being critical of officials in postgame interviews.
I didn't notice a rush to defend free speech and free expression when Odell Beckham was flagged for pretending to pee on the end zone after scoring a touchdown against the Eagles. The point is that the NFL, which uses the flag as part of its logo, is no stranger to stifling expression they don’t like on company time.
And the reality is that it is the league’s right to have a code of conduct and project the message they want to the consumer. After all, football is first and foremost a business. Imagine what life would be like if anyone could express themselves on company time. If the pizza delivery guy plays a tape of the national anthem and kneels in my driveway, I’m calling his boss. I imagine many people would. When I am ordering a pizza, I am not paying for political discourse.
I’m not paying for it at the stadium either.