Last Friday, after President Biden, left-wing activists, and the national media spent weeks peddling lies about Georgia’s new voting law disproportionately impacting people of color, Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred caved to the radical mob and decided to move this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta.
In the name of equality, Manfred’s decision will cost Atlanta, a city with a 50 percent black population, an estimated $100 million in economic losses. The game will now be held in Denver, Colorado, a city that is only 10 percent black. As nonsensical as Manfred’s decision was, no one should be surprised by it.
Over the past few years, it has been fairly obvious to any impartial observer that the higher echelons at MLB, along with those in charge at the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA), have made a conscious decision to alienate a large percentage of their fanbase by conceding more control of their sports to the demands of social justice warriors and the tyrannical Left.
“Silence in the face of injustice is unacceptable,” Sam Kennedy, the Red Sox President and CEO said last year in the wake of the George Floyd protests. In addition to now displaying “Black Lives Matter” on the bleacher seats and on the Green Monster at Fenway Park, Kennedy and the Red Sox have created a “Social Justice, Equity & Inclusion Advisory Committee” that seeks to conduct a “bias audit” of its HR policies, “enhanc[e] ballpark messaging related to racial and social justice causes,” and partner “with an organization with expertise in racial equity and restorative justice.” Many teams have taken similar actions.
But those in power in the sports business world may soon come to regret their woke decisions, which have begun to alienate fans.
In light of MLB’s decision to move the All-Star Game to Colorado, some Braves fans are already asking for a refund on their season tickets.
And in 2020, the NFL, MLB, and NBA all saw their TV ratings plummet. Now, it’s certainly true that postponements and abbreviated seasons precipitated by the COVID pandemic did not help matters. But one would expect that fewer entertainment options and more people staying home would have increased the demand for sports viewing.
Instead, it turns out that when millionaire athletes kneel for the National Anthem but stand for the Black Anthem, disrespect our flag, and slander law enforcement, and when billionaire owners and corporate sponsors try to appease the woke mob, many Americans tune them out.
The 2020 NFL regular season averaged just 15.4 million viewers, down 7 percent from the previous regular season, making it the lowest average audience since 2017. Only 96.4 million viewers tuned in to watch this year’s Super Bowl on CBS between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, making it the least-watched Super Bowl since 2007. By comparison, 114.4 million viewers watched the New England Patriots defeat the Seattle Seahawks in 2015.
Although MLB’s shortened 60-game regular season viewership increased by a mere 4 percent last year, its World Series TV viewership was down 36 percent from the 2019 season and 32 percent below the previous World Series low. The six-game series on Fox between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Tampa Bay Rays averaged an embarrassingly low 9.7 million viewers, just four years after the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians averaged 23.4 million viewers.
The NBA did not fare any better. Last year’s matchup on ABC between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat was the least-watched NBA finals in history, with the series averaging just 6.4 million viewers per night compared with 15.1 million in the previous season. Only 5.6 million people tuned in to watch the decisive game six, compared to the 18.3 million who watched the final game between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors in 2019.
These trends suggest that when professional sports become politicized, many spectators lose interest, feeling that they are being used as pawns by sanctimonious athletes, owners, and corporate sponsors.
A YouGov/Yahoo News poll conducted last month confirmed as much. In the survey, respondents were asked how the discussion of politics in sports has impacted their viewing habits. Thirty-five percent of participants said they were now watching less sports due to political and social messaging, whereas only 11 percent said they now watch more.
Men in particular were more put off by political messaging: 38 percent said they were now watching less sports, while 28 percent of women said they were spending less time watching. Only 13 percent of men and 7 percent of women said they are now watching more sports as a consequence of more social-justice messages.
Not surprisingly, the numbers from the poll varied by political affiliation. Fifty-three percent of the respondents who identified as Republicans said they were watching less sports due to political posturing, while 19 percent of Democrats said they watched less sports once social justice messaging became more prominent. Only 9 percent of Republicans and 14 percent of Democrats said they were now watching more sports as a result of political activism in sports.
The poll indicated that Independent voters were also turned off by political messaging in sports, with 39 percent saying they watched less sports, and only 9 percent saying they watched more.
These results confirm what many of us already knew: When the majority of sports fans turn on a basketball game, they do not want to be lectured about “systemic racism” by athletes who are paid exorbitantly to play a game that they love. They just want to watch Stephen Curry hit three-pointers from another galaxy. And when they turn on a tennis match, they do not care what social-justice slogan will be written on Naomi Osaka’s face mask as she walks onto the court; they just want to see if Serena Williams can finally blast her way to the women’s all-time Grand Slam record.
The past year has shown that when professional sports leagues promote the racist teachings of Ibram X. Kendi, or paint the “Black Lives Matter” slogan on their ballparks, fans will simply shut off the tube and spend their time and their money somewhere else.
We watch sports to see athletes perform heroic feats that most mere mortals can only dream of accomplishing. We watch sports to root for the underdog to defy the odds. We watch sports for an escape from our problems and the ills of the world. We do not watch sports to bring our problems into the sporting arena.
It appears the sporting elites aren’t listening, at least not yet. But if owners and sponsors continue to alienate a large percentage of their fanbase, then the decline of sports viewership will only continue. Eventually, they’ll be flexing their wokeness before an empty arena.
David Keltz was a speechwriter for the Administrator at the U.S. General Services Administration from 2020–21 and is the author of the new book The Campaign of his Life and Media Bias in the Trump Presidency and the Extinction of the Conservative Millennial. He previously served as a White House Intern for Vice President Mike Pence. You can follow him on Twitter @david_keltz.