NFL’s TV Ratings Continue Slide Amidst National Anthem Protests

Mike Ozanian ,  


It is starting to look like disrespecting the country during the national anthem WLP +%is accomplishing what the concussions,domestic violence and deflategate could not do–drive down television ratings for the National Football League.

Through two weeks of football the NFL’s television ratings are down across the board. The drop in ratings and viewership is unprecedented in recent years and has occurred during the protestof the national anthem, started by San Francisco 49ers backup QB Colin Kaepernick.  Just last year some opined that the league’s ratings had no ceiling. That appears to be false.

To summarize Sports BusinessDaily: NBC’s three primetime games, which includes the NFL Kickoff game, have averaged 23.7 million viewers, down 12% from the same period last year. ESPN also is seeing a 12% decline for its three “MNF” games to date. While CBS CBS +0.43% and NFL Network have only one Thursday night game to date, that lone game (Jets-Bills, 15.4 million viewers) was down 27% compared to the opening “TNF” game last season. Looking at Sunday afternoons, Fox is off (-0.2%) through two weeks, averaging 20.9 million viewers. CBS is averaging 17.3 million viewers through the same point, down 5%.

While some suggest that the drop in ratings may be due to the lack of “marquee” match ups, I don’t buy it. For starters, none of the recent PR debacles, such as drugs, beatings or concussions, created something like #boycotnfl. Two,Kaepernick is the most-disliked player in the NFL. Three, I challenge anyone to look at the comments on stories about the NFL national anthem protests and tell me the anecdotal evidence does not strongly suggest many, if not most viewers are fed up either because they are against the protests, or just don’t want politics of any kind to interfere with their football.

Maybe this is why a new poll says four out of ten people will turn off the NFL if the national anthem protests continue. If that is accurate, it would mean that four out of ten people who were not watching the NFL prior to the protests would have to start watching in order for the league’s TV ratings to remain flat.

I asked a close confident of the NFL–someone who regularly meets with commissioner Roger Goodell and team owners–if the league is worried. His answer: “not yet.” But given there is $4.6 billion at stake, maybe the commissioner should be. Or I could be wrong and the disgust many fans have over the players protesting the national anthem will go away like it apparently has over the other scandals.