It's no secret that the NFL brand experienced a troublesome year, receiving blow after blow from negative press detailing scandals both on and off the field. From cheating, to domestic violence cases, to even murder, big name players have made the NFL brand a target for serious backlash. However, aside from grim headlines, the league is surviving this with little effects to business or notable declines in viewership.
"We might think of people as NFL fans, but they are really fans of a team, not the league," Amanda Lotz, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan, told Sports Illustrated's The MMQB.
"Deflategate" is the latest hit to the most lucrative professional sport in the country. After Tom Brady and the Patriots were accused of using deflated balls last season, the NFL finally came to a decision last week. Brady has been suspended for the four opening games of the 2015 season and the New England franchise forfeited their 2016 first-round pick along with a the fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, in addition to being fined $1 million.
New England's deliberate use of unfair advantage was the last straw. Because the NFL has been criticized for being lenient in handling several accounts of poor moral judgment, such as Ray Rice's domestic violence incident and Adrian Peterson's abuse against his 4-year-old son, Commissioner Roger Goodell is making an example out of the future Hall of Famer and his team.
"I think these controversies would have gone away a lot easier if they had approached them from, 'How are the American people going to react...'" said Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Although the league has done a horrific job in crisis management throughout the year, the brand is still thriving. History shows that airing dirty laundry is not likely to affect the business of a professional sport, and the NFL is the latest example. The performance of a team outweighs the behavior of the players, from a fan's perspective.
After the world witnessed Ray Rice -- running back for the Baltimore Ravens -- punch and drag his then-fiancée, the next Ravens game more than doubled in ratings from the previous year, proving the NFL can do no wrong.
With a goal for more exposure in the 2014 season, the NFL implemented a Thursday Night package, where seven of the season's first eight Thursday night games were broadcasted simultaneously on both CBS and NFL Network. Through the first seven weeks of the season, CBS averaged 16.5 million viewers where the NFL Network games averaged 8.5 million viewers in 2013. Fans continue to tune in faithfully despite how they feel morally about the controversy.
As TIME Magazine's Charlotte Alter says, "the NFL operates in a moral universe all of its own," where consequences do not exist until the organization is bombarded and pressured by the public to react. Until the sport feels severe consequences in revenue and viewership, they will continue to release vague statements, late PSAs, and unfit punishment for the actions of the players.
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