Are player protests during the national anthem enough to drive fans away from football?
If you're judging by Facebook likes, there may be some small evidence of that.
The Buffalo Bills were among several NFL teams that saw a decrease in Facebook likes after Sunday's protests against racial injustice during the national anthem, according to data from CrowdTangle, a Facebook-owned site that tracks social followings, and a story in The New Orleans Advocate.
But while the losses were noticeable, they were minor: The Bills were down about 2,200 likes in the days after Sunday's game (a 26-16 win), which was a decrease of only about 0.25 percent of their overall Facebook following. No team lost more than half a percentage point of its total Facebook likes, according to data from The Advocate.
After the Bills posted photos of players kneeling Sunday with the caption "One family," several commenters replied they were done were with the team, though others, including some who said they were veterans, supported the peaceful protests.
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) September 24, 2017
The Bills Facebook page showed 860,402 likes around noon Thursday, which brought the team back to the level it was at in May.
So you could look at the data and say that protests caused the Bills to lose all of the gains in Facebook following they picked up in the offseason....
.... or that this week's losses hardly made a difference in the long run.
Most Bills players said Wednesday that they haven't decided if they'll continue protesting this week.
We're assuming the drops in Facebook likes are mostly in response to the protests and not a sudden turn against the long-term outlook of the team. The Bills won Sunday's game, and even if they hadn't, losing hasn't seemed to result in drops in Facebook likes on this scale. The Sunday-to-Monday drop of 1,500 likes was the team's largest single-day drop in the last two years, per CrowdTangle data, but the decreases in the following days have been seen before.
If you're curious how the Bills' Twitter following responded, the team gained followers every day this week, per CrowdTangle, with the Sunday-to-Monday gain of 1,300 followers being the biggest gain of the week. The team's Twitter following is up roughly the same amount as its Facebook following is down, which the change in percentage being slightly larger on Twitter because the Bills have fewer Twitter followers (793,000) than Facebook likes.