Since the video surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, the NFL has been sent into a tailspin. Three other players, including Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson, are being investigated for domestic abuse issues, and rumors are spiraling as to whether the NFL and Ravens officials had access to the complete Rice tape all along, or if they orchestrated an elaborate cover-up to protect their interests. Commissioner Roger Goodell gave one hard-to-watch press conference on the matter, tripping over even the most straight-forward questions and leading many to call for his resignation.
Yet, while the NFL's public relations are clearly in disarray, it doesn't seem to be affecting how many people watch the sport.
An NBC/Marist poll determined that 53 percent of Americans, and 57 percent of NFL fans, are unhappy with how the league is handling issues of domestic abuse. Male fans were more disapproving than female. However, their disappointment doesn't translate to their viewership habits. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed said "domestic violence news hasn't changed the amount of professional football they watch." Eleven percent are less likely to watch, and a surprising three percent said the ongoings within the NFL make them more likely to watch the sport.
The Wire spoke with sports bar owners and managers across the country to see how the recent difficulties within the NFL have affected business. Even though at least one bar banned the NFL from its TVs, many fans seem determined to watch the game regardless of the domestic abuse incidents and cover-up rumors.
Chappell’s, Kansas City, Missouri
Chappell's is one of the most popular sports bars in the nation, referenced by Sports Illustrated and USA Today as one of the best places to watch the Super Bowl. "We are closed Sundays, but we talk about football all during the week, and we watch the games Thursday night. There is no change. Everyone wants to talk football," said owner Jim Chappell. "I think that they are more interested in watching football, they are not interested in somebody throwing his wife in the elevator or somebody switching their kid, even though they are both wrong. They know that they are wrong, but it doesn't affect watching football. I bet after it is all said and done, they wouldn't like to get rid of either one of them [Rice and Peterson], but they don't hang on that as much as they do the games, as much as how the Chiefs did, or how the Seattle-Bronco game was this weekend. They are all talking that Seattle-Bronco game."
Tom’s NFL American Sports Bar and Grill, Miami, Florida
This sports bar is so dedicated to pro football, they put it in their name. A manager told The Wire that they have as many fans in as ever before. "We will still show the games, and people are still showing up. We have been packed every day." As for feedback on the players themselves, particularly Rice and Peterson, a waitress told us, "Because they aren't on the teams anymore, particularly for Ray Rice, people are still coming and watching. We can't penalize everyone playing football."
Warehouse Saloon and Billiards, Austin, Texas
This bar is full of Texas-based Vikings fans every game day. As an official Vikings club, the team registers the bar as an "official viewing location" for the games. This particular club has about fifty full-time members. The team's star player, Adrian Peterson, is being investigated for beating his young son (who lives in Houston) with a switch. However, this hasn't affected the patrons at the Austin pub.
"As far as crowd numbers, ours have stayed fairly constant. I'm here on Sundays with the guys. Overall, it's had a negligible effect on our business, the crowds are still here and are still watching the same teams. Our Vikings club, they're proud of the club. The individual players don't stand out to them. They are just going to support their team," explained the manager.
Camden Pub, Baltimore, Maryland
Baltimore's football team was first to be hit directly by the recent NFL scandal when their running back was found to have brutally beaten his wife in an elevator. Rice has since been suspended from the NFL indefinitely (though he is appealing the ban) and was cut from the Ravens. Team officials are still being investigated for what they knew about the Rice video, and when they knew it.
While fans are still coming into Baltimore sports bars, they have a whole different motivation. "There has been an uptick in people coming in, because they are wanting to see the Ravens fail. If it is an away game, we see the most uptick, but if it's a home game, it's pretty much steady," the bar manager told us. "The feedback [from patrons], the major thing they take issue with, as gruesome as the hitting of a woman is, and it is, they weren't as bothered by that as by the spitting on her twice. A lot of discussion of that has been that [the spitting] has been overlooked. I hear a lot about the spitting; that's not respecting her as a human being, that is a lot of the conversation."
Mustang Harry’s, New York City, New York
The Madison Square Garden bar is a home away from home for Ravens fans in New York. They host happy hours dedicated to the team, and thus far, business has been "about the same," though they no longer have any Rice memorabilia hung up around the bar.
Huberts Cafe and Bar, Minneapolis, Minnesota
This local Vikings bar hasn't been affected thus far, as they show a number of different games. "Our patronage hasn't changed; we have offered the NFL package, so people come in no matter what," a manager told us, "If they aren't coming in to watch the Vikings, they come in to watch someone else."
Joe Senser’s Sports Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Adrian Peterson's problems haven't made a difference at this Minnesota sports bar. In fact, more patrons have come in since the incident. "We have a strong Viking following, as well as other teams in the NFL. It definitely hasn't dropped off. If anything, there is more of an interest to see what the coaching staff can do, and there's quite a bit of excitement even without Adrian Peterson on the team," said a manager.
Westgate Las Vegas Race and Sports Superbook, Las Vegas, Nevada
In Vegas, where sports betting is legal, patrons can grab a beer while placing their bets. One of the most popular sports books is Westgate. Their vice president told The Wire that betting has been going strong, regardless of the Vikings and Ravens madness.
"We haven't seen any change up or down based on what is going on off the field. It’s just based on the performance off the field. This last week the majority of people were betting on the Saints with the last Saints-Viking game," the VP told us. "It really depends on who the opponent is. We have seen normal activity, not necessarily against Baltimore because they might be considered better. In the game this past weekend, against Cleveland, there was considerable support for Baltimore because they were considered better, and they won by two. The point spread was 1.5, so the public won on that game."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.