This article was originally published on September 9, 2021 then updated on February 8, 2022.
The NFL is using hip-hop to try to win back young fans.
Over the last decade the NFL reached the peak of its popularity in 2015. Since then - the average weekly television viewership of the NFL has
from 17.9 million weekly viewers in 2015 to 14.9 million in 2020.
Two things occurred between 2015 and the present that caused huge losses in viewership:
1.) Colin Kaepernick spoke up about racial inequalities in America,
2.) Donald Trump was elected President
. In 2016, when Kaepernick decided to kneel during the national anthem - he became a lightning rod for unfounded right wing criticism. The loudest voice in all of right-wing criticism at the time was the President of the United States - Donald Trump.
to these circumstances was to blacklist Colin Kaepernick, then fold to right wing pressure - ultimately passing a rule that banned players from kneeling during the national anthem in 2018.
These decisions managed to alienate everyone.
Right-wing critics were furious about how slow and weak the NFL was in banning free speech and people sympathetic to Kaepernick saw the NFL shutdown a star for speaking up against injustice.
Data shows that the demographic the NFL is losing most are people ages 18-49 year, which hit a record low since 1992 in 2020.
So how is the NFL going to try to win back young, progressive, left-leaning fans, Black and brown fans?
, when NFL viewership was at a decade long high - the NFL released its rendition of their annual video game Madden 15. On the Madden 15 soundtrack
there were zero rap songs,
the closest thing to a hip-hop song in the game was Boom Boom Pow by the Black Eyed Peas.
Fast forward to Madden 2020 and there is a custom made Snoop Dogg song called
Beyond that - Madden 2021 featured new releases from cutting edge artists like
The creators of Madden,
(EA), released a statement that the Madden 21 soundtrack
“will elevate the future of hip-hop culture like never before.”
For the most recent game, Madden 2022 - EA dropped an entire mixtape of 11 football-adjacent songs featuring some of the hottest names in hip-hop like
42 Dugg, Tierra Whack,
Monday Night Football
Observant football fans will remember the 2019 NFL season as the year that Monday Night Football aired pre-taped performances of rappers during halftime. In the middle of a prime time football game, ESPN would cut to the
Genesis Halftime Show
rappers like G-Eazy and more timid acts like Charlie Puth for what felt like a lifetime.
Fans hated this and it was cancelled after just a few weeks.
In 2020, ESPN and the NFL tapped
to be the “curator” of music for five Monday Night Football games. Similarly,
has been asked to curate the sounds of ten Monday Night Football games in 2021. Coincidentally, ESPN has been instrumental in assisting Drake in promoting his new album
Certified Lover Boy.
Super Bowl Halftime Show
Beyoncé upstaging Coldplay during the 2016 Super Bowl Halftime show was a solid litmus test for the average NFL fan. Dressed as Black Panthers - Beyoncé and dozens of dancers put on a poignant politically charged performance on America’s largest stage.
If you were mad at Beyoncé, you were likely anti-Kaepernick and pro-Trump; if you were amazed by Beyoncé, you were likely the opposite.
The first hip-hop artist to appear during the halftime show was Queen Latifah in 1998, then Nelly in 2001, and then Diddy in 2004.
Between 2004 and 2012 there were zero rappers at the Super Bowl.
Although hip-hop acts occasionally pop out at the Halftime show, no rapper has ever headlined. The NFL held out as long as humanly possible to embrace hip-hop and has spent the last couple years drastically over-correcting with mostly cosmetic solutions.
But the viral success of Beyoncé's 2016 Halftime appearance was evident in the two following years when Lady Gaga and Justin Timberlake failed to live up to expectations. After such failures - the NFL was keen to ensure that
were featured during Maroon 5’s performance in 2019. Then in 2020 - Jay-Z got involved with booking the Super Bowl performance, providing a veneer of credibility to whoever they pick.
The Super Bowl LVI Hip-Hop Halftime Show
Now to finish the 2021 season, many of the biggest names in hip-hop are set to take the stage at Super Bowl LVI. Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Mary J. Blige will all be performing on the biggest stage in America. If the halftime show is well done, it will be a massive win for the genre of hip-hop - despite the fact that
the artists are being used as marketing to distract from the many injustices present in the modern NFL.
To readers of Hot 97, the prospect of a hip-hop halftime show sounds great but to the 50% of NFL fans who are conservative and have no interest in rap, it's a totally different situation. The Super Bowl LVI halftime show has had a target on it's back since the moment it was announced,
prepare for social media backlash and talking head panels on the news Monday regardless of what happens.
It's surprising to see a socially-conscious artists like Kendrick Lamar work with the NFL post-Kaepernick. Everything in Kendrick's discography and recent body of work would lead fans to believe that he doesn't agree with the NFL, and the same notion goes for Eminem. Maybe the opportunity to perform at the Super Bowl is too big to turn down? Or maybe they'll pull a
and make a statement? If Kendrick and Em go on stage and perform
The Real Slim Shady
without saying anything substantial, they should expect core fans to be unhappy.
Jay-Z and Roc Nation
became partners in the Summer of 2019. The
was made to
“enhance the NFL's live game experiences and to amplify the league's social justice efforts.”
Notice the use of the word
rather than the word
The biggest advancements of the Roc Nation and NFL partnership have been the aforementioned cosmetic changes to the sounds and stylings of the NFL. The NFL has pledged $250 million in social justice investment over 10 years, which is about $25 million a year, aka the amount that Raiders QB Derek Carr makes in one year.
Marketing Is Not Change
It's clear that the NFL has embraced hip-hop into their brand, but that's just about all they've done.Since the original publication of this article in September, we've seen former ESPN talent and Monday Night Football announcer Jon Gruden be exposed for racist emails with high level NFL executives. We've seen Brian Flores get fired from the Miami Dolphins after finishing the season with a winning record and then get embarrassed on job interviews with the Giants and Broncos. We've seen cosmetic changes be made to systematic problems time and time again.
The NFL has not changed, do not allow the power of hip-hop to change your mind. Despite the NFL being more than 70% Black,
there are only two Black NFL head coaches and two non-white owners.
The NFL denied the brain damage football caused for generations, doing harm to decades of NFL players and American children. The existence of NFL stadiums in major cities has taken millions in local tax dollars out of the hands of municipal services for the impoverished. For as fun as football is, it is impossible to make a game of violence that serves to build wealth for billionaires into a
Symbolic Change Vs. Systematic Change
This year the messages
“It Takes All of Us”
will be wrapped around the edges of the field and on the back of your favorite player's helmet, while your team's billionaire owner donates to Republican politicians.
The NFL has had an identity crisis while navigating through the racial awakening of the last few years. Rather than looking in the mirror and addressing the problems that the NFL has or treating their players with more dignity, they partnered with hip-hop’s billionaire Jay-Z to try and rebrand the NFL.
Don't let your favorite artists confuse you, the NFL hasn't changed.
If the NFL actually cared about social issues, they'd implement a profit sharing program with the cities they reside in, which would pump money generated by the team back into the community.
Instead of structural change, Americans are constantly given symbolic change. No end to the filibuster or qualified immunity, here's Black Lives Matter Ave.
No end to the real inequities in the NFL, just some Drake songs during Monday Night Football and a new Kendrick single at the Super Bowl if you're lucky.