The self-inflicted damage to the NFL done via the league’s embrace of the BLM-riots and anti-police protests spilling onto the field has continued to manifest itself through the close of the 2024 football season with a telling sign: the empty stadium.
The intrusion of partisan and racial identitarian politics into one of the most unifying forces in American culture was harshly criticized by then-President Donald Trump and continued to be even after his first term concluded. In the past three years, conservatives, independents, and even liberals have rejected the overt politicization of the gridiron, long-held sacrosanct by American sports fans of all parties and extractions.
The result of this may have shone through on Sunday, Dec. 17th when Front Office Sports posted an image of virtually empty stands at the Bank of America Stadium in Raleigh, NC with the stunning report that even under $5 and even some as low as 45 cents, the tickets wouldn’t sell, “Depending on where you look, get-in ticket prices for today’s Carolina Panthers’ game ranged from about $0.45 to $5.”
Depending on where you look, get-in ticket prices for today's Carolina Panthers' game ranged from about $0.45 to $5. pic.twitter.com/CGd2fXJVHJ
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) December 17, 2023
Another account on X, Empty Seats Galore posted a wider-angle view reposted from two attendees’ Instagram accounts.
— Empty Seats Galore (@EmptySeatsPics) December 17, 2023
While some commenters attributed the brutally low attendance numbers to a horrific 2-13 season, others called out the poor North Carolina weather that brought rain and fifty-degree temperatures to the open-roofed arena.
Despite ESPN reports of 70,000+ tickets sold, the pictures and video simply don’t bear that out.
Barry Warner writing for List Wire cited another possible explanation: a new somewhat intrusive policy put in place by the stadium.
“The stadium and wireless provider will offer facial recognition to Silver Club members to get them through the gates without needing to scan a ticket. The goal is to streamline the entry process, which can get backed up on game day. Stadium officials say the process is pretty simple. Ticketholders will walk up to a facial scanner and it will determine if they’re allowed inside. If a fan’s face isn’t in the system, they won’t be allowed in without a physical ticket to scan.”
But that explanation only applies to the Panthers. If we look at Sports Business Journal in 2022 it was reported that over a dozen teams saw either a loss of average attendance year over year or minimal growth. The Panthers, Baltimore Ravens, LA Chargers, and Green Bay Packers were among the hardest hit. This points to a larger problem.
As former President Donald Trump noted in his now famous takedown of the League in 2017: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”
“You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, ‘That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it [but] they’ll be the most popular person in this country.”
He observed at the time that the NFL was struggling for television ratings saying, “The NFL ratings are down massively. Now the No. 1 reason happens to be they like watching what’s happening … with yours truly. They like what’s happening. Because you know today if you hit too hard: 15 yards! Throw him out of the game!”
Those words may still be haunting stadiums even six years later.