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The impact of race relations on NFL attendance: An econometric analysis

Nicholas Masafumi Watanabe and George B Cunningham

PLOS ONE, 2020, vol. 15, issue 1, 1-21

Abstract: Recent protests by athletes focused on raising awareness of social issues and injustices, such as the Black Lives Matter protests led by Colin Kaepernick of the National Football League’s San Francisco 49ers, have generated a great deal of attention and debate within society. Notably, the protests conducted by these players before games in the 2016 and 2017 seasons became such a sensational topic, that extraordinary amounts of attention was paid to it by the media, consumers, and even politicians who often denounced the players as being unpatriotic. Against this backdrop, the current research examines whether fluctuations in attendance at National Football League games are associated with explicit attitudes towards race, implicit racial prejudice, and racial animus within a population. Specifically, using multiple measures of racial attitudes as part of an econometric model estimating attendance at games, the results suggest that having a higher level of implicit bias in a market leads to a decline in consumer interest in attending games. Additionally, using interaction effects, it is found that while protests generally reduced the negative effects of implicit bias on attendance, markets with lower levels of implicit bias actually had greater declines of attendance during the protests. From this, the current study advances the understanding of racial attitudes and racial animus, and its impact on consumer behavior at the regional level. That is, this research highlights that racial sentiments in a local market were able to predict changes in market behaviors, suggesting that race relations can have wide reaching impacts.

Date: 2020
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DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0226938

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