#TakeAKnee and the Impact of Boycotting Brands

Politics, protests…and playing ball? You bet. 

In case you were out riding your bicycle along the beach this weekend like I was (thank you Chicago!), the controversy over players taking a knee during NFL games has exploded, dominating social conversations and raising hackles that transcend political lines.

Momentum has been building since last year when Colin Kaepernick bent his knee during the Star Spangled Banner to protest police brutality, but the mashup of politics and players reached its peak this past weekend with President Trump’s comments:

While in Huntsville, Alabama, President Trump said, ‘Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son-of-a-b**** off the field right now, out. He’s fired.”

Following Trump’s comments, more acts of solidarity spread across professional sports teams and social media fervently responded.

On right: “Former NFL fans are burning their gear #NFLBoycott” On left: “To every American who decide to #TakeTheKnee this weekend, I applaud you. I have deployed 7 times now to protect that right. Thank you”

So just how big of a deal have the NFL protests been?

Using our analytics engine Kairos, our analysts explored the heated conversations around the NFL protests, including taking a knee (expressed via the hashtags #TakeTheKnee and #TakeAKnee) and boycotting the NFL entirely (illustrated with the hashtags #NFLBoycott with #BoycottNFL).

The NFL boycott movement is slowly growing, but the discussion around taking a knee this week in general has been absolutely explosive.

Within just one week, there were more than 4 million social conversations using the hashtags #TakeTheKnee and #TakeAKnee, whereas there were a little more than 500-thousand posts using the #BoycottNFL and #NFLBoycott hashtags. The top three topics within the posts were, Donald Trump with 574K posts, NFL with 378K posts and Colin Kaepernick with 191K posts.


Most of the chatter centered around the Chicago Bears and the Pittsburgh Steelers game this week, where the Steelers remained in the locker room during the anthem while Steelers player and military vet Alejandro Villanueva stood alone on the sidelines.

But, looking at the emotions surrounding the #TakeTheKnee movement, folks mostly felt positive about it and supported the right to use a sports game to speak out, even if it was during the National Anthem.

Top negative emotions expressed included hatred (15%), anger(15%) and stress. (3%).


How Big is the Boycott Movement?

Come Sunday Night Football, will people putting their fervor to practice? Our data says no.

Analyzing the over 500k conversations around the “Boycott NFL” argument, we found the sentiment disparity to be 50/50 positive to negative. However, when looking at the emotions triggered, 20 percent of conversations indicated hatred, shame (3%) and disgust (4%). Interestingly, 10 percent were amused by the whole battle.


The data indicates to us that despite the uproar and passionate discourse, people love football and they appreciate the right to share an opinion.


How Should Brands Respond

The lines between political conversations and sports are becoming more blurred and brands are getting hit with the back splatter (whether they intended to or not). The NFL is not the first brand to experience tension in these tumultuous political times.

But, as we discovered in our report, The Impact of Boycott on Brand Boycotts, there is a way for brands to deal with it before launching into full crisis management mode. It involves playing the long game, understanding how your core audience is responding, and reacting thoughtfully and proactively versus reactively.

Wanna learn more about brands and boycotts? Download our research report here.