Despite threat of boycott, attendance increases at Sunday NFL games

Fans angry with the NFL and its protesting players called for a boycott on Veterans Day weekend. But other fans showed up to Sunday’s games, and in greater numbers than they had averaged all season.

NFL players protesting during the national anthem have drawn the ire of a significant segment of the fanbase, upset at what they believe is disrespect for the flag and military members’ sacrifice. Almost half, 49 percent, of respondents in a recent poll said they believed the protests were disrespectful to the flag. Many fans have said they would boycott the NFL, and loosely organized movements on Twitter and Facebook sought to flex patriotic muscle by boycotting the entire slate of games this holiday weekend.

However, the numbers don’t indicate that any boycotts, if indeed they happened, had a meaningful numerical effect. In fact, total attendance at the eight early games on Sunday, as reported by the NFL, was up about 1 percent over season averages. Here’s the breakdown, with averages prior to Sunday’s games.

• Buffalo: Average 68,944; Sunday: 67,501
• Chicago: Average 61,779; Sunday: 61,285
• Jacksonville: Average 59,553; Sunday: 67,164
• Detroit: Average 63,367; Sunday: 64,646
• Indy: Average 63,801; Sunday: 66,146
• Tennessee: Average 67,356; Sunday: 67,432
• Tampa: Average 60,894; Sunday: 57,911
• Washington: Average: 77,451; Sunday: 74,476

The flag at the Falcons-Cowboys game in Atlanta. (Getty)
The flag at the Falcons-Cowboys game in Atlanta. (Getty)

Four of eight games were up over seasonal averages, with only Tampa Bay and Washington showing significant decreases. (Chicago’s attendance was down less than 500 from the season average.) The NFL’s attendance figures reflect actual turnstile count, not tickets distributed. (See here for the statistics from 2017 as a whole; individual game stats are available on their individual box scores.)

Also, for purposes of comparison: five of those teams’ average attendance figures have increased over 2016 full-season averages. The teams which saw falling average attendance were Indianapolis (down 1,748), Jacksonville (down 2,362), and Washington (down 853). Granted, attendance numbers are notoriously tricky to count, but it’s worth noting that, for instance, Washington reports an average capacity of 90.4 percent despite the fact that the team has a years-long season-ticket waiting list.)

No players knelt for the anthem in the early games, nor did any kneel during Thursday night’s Seahawks-Cardinals game. Cameras caught the Giants’ Olivier Vernon kneeling in San Francisco during the afternoon slate.

Of course, it’s worth noting that fans in seats aren’t the only measure of the NFL’s health. The league is still facing falling TV ratings, sponsor grumbling, and vicious criticism emanating from the White House to comment sections, and everywhere in between. The owners and commissioner Roger Goodell aren’t exactly at war, but they’re more at odds than they’ve ever been in Goodell’s tenure. The NFL isn’t even close to stable ground yet, but judging from early season numbers, in-person attendance doesn’t need to be one of the league’s chief concerns at the moment.

Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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