by A. Big Country
The NFL is, without question, the favorite sport among U.S. television viewers. Just a year ago, the NFL’s pre-season games were drawing higher television ratings than every basketball or baseball game, excluding the NBA Finals and World Series, respectively. That’s pre-season, when the games don’t even count.
This year, the NFL’s TV ratings are down. The NFL is a money-making machine, and good ratings bring in those dollars, so plenty of smart people are putting their heads together to figure out why this is happening. In addition to those smart people, Donald Trump is also throwing his opinion into the mix. And, as you may have guessed, it’s racist. Trump recently said:
“I don’t know if you know, but the NFL is way down in their ratings. Way down. And you know why? Two reasons. Number one is, this politics they’re finding is a rougher game than football, and more exciting. Honestly, we’ve taken a lot of people away from the NFL. And the other reason is Kaepernick.”
While Trump spewing his hate rhetoric isn’t enough to make something even remotely true, he’s certainly not the first person to offer this explanation. Plenty of sports writers, including Boston’s CBS affiliate, have also cited this as a cause for the ratings drop. There was also a Yahoo Sports/YouGov poll where 40 percent of people who said they were watching less because of Kaepernick. That 40 percent share was the most popular reason given for watching fewer NFL games.
Is that really the reason, then?
No. It comes from a continued desire to quiet any and all voices drawing attention to this ongoing issue of racial division.
Overall, NFL viewership is down 12 percent this season. So, you’d expect that across the multitude of time slots, all would be declining. That is not the case. The NFL’s “primetime” slots are suffering the most, including This is Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football and Thursday Night Football. Here are the ratings numbers for those slots, compared to last season.
Sunday Night Football: down 22 percent
Monday Night Football: down 19 percent
Thursday Night Football: down 17 percent
The other national time slot is the 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) “Game of the Week” on Fox. This slot is actually up 1 percent.
What other factors could play into this ratings drop?
One is the quality of play. Penalties were at an all-time high last year, and this year is on track to break that record. In addition, the primetime games have been poor ones. The average margin of victory on Monday Night Football through eight games is 16.4 points, over a touchdown more than what it was last year.
Going back to the poll from earlier, we saw that the most common reason for not watching as much football was Kaepernick’s protest. The majority of people who gave that response were 55 or older, a group that also represents a higher income bracket.
This is relevant, because NFL viewership among higher income households (ones that earn $75,000 a year or more) is down 14 percent, while viewership among households below that income threshold are down 19 percent. In addition, white viewership is down 12 percent, while black viewership is down 14 percent.
In short, we do not see the numbers agreeing with the narrative in the media. The ratings are down, but — despite what many will tell you — it’s not because a black man has decided to use his platform in an effort to enact positive social change.