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Super Bowl 2019 stadium owner Arthur Blank: Football is in a very healthy place

Brian Sozzi

One of the NFL’s most well-regarded team owners told Yahoo Finance he is bullish on the outlook for the NFL despite high-profile controversies such as players protesting the national anthem and health concerns from the sport’s hard-hitting nature.

“I think that the issue of the social justice protests are pretty much behind us. We only have a couple of players now that are kneeling on occasion or kneel during certain games. I think we've moved from protest to progress. It's kind of like Dr. King and his last book, you want, you know, chaos or collaboration working together,” said Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and its Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which will host Super Bowl 2019, in an extensive interview. On Feb. 3, the New England Patriots will meet the Los Angeles Rams at the palatial stadium, which opened in 2017 and cost a reported $1.6 billion to build, for Super Bowl 53.

“So I think the league, the players, the owners are working together on these social justice issues,” added Blank, who also co-founded Home Depot. “And so we've made real progress, which is important, but I also think you don't have those demonstrations taking place inside the stadium. And I think the game itself is at a very healthy place.”

NFL’s comeback

NFL TV ratings for the 2018-19 season suggest fans have moved beyond the controversies that have gripped the league. Ratings gained 5% in 2018 compared with 2017, according to the data from the NFL. The average game in 2018 pulled in 15.8 million viewers, up from 14.9 million a year ago. Although bouncing back, the viewership figure is down from 16.5 million in 2016 and 17.9 million in 2015.

Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, right, talks with head coach Dan Quinn (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, right, talks with head coach Dan Quinn (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Blank credits the emergence of new stars and less public outcry over kneeling during the anthem as some reasons for the improved ratings. Meanwhile, it’s likely that a raft of rule changes that led to a drop in concussions in 2018 has helped lift sentiment.

The number of concussions fell 24% during the preseason regular season, according to new data from the NFL.

“The league probably has committed close to $200 million of investment in all kinds of medical research to understand not just concussions, but a variety of other things. And make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent them, both in terms of rules of the game, in terms of equipment, helmets, shoes, variety of other things as well. So that'll continue to evolve,” Blank explained.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter @BrianSozzi

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