National pass-time: NFL ratings take big hit after anthem protests
posted at 2:01 pm on September 14, 2016 by Ed Morrissey
Most Americans consider sports an escape from the trials and tribulations of their lives. (For Cleveland Browns fans, the NFL is part of those trials and tribulations … but I digress.) When sports becomes another politicized arena for multi-millionaires to lecture the fans that provide their celebrity lifestyle, it comes as no surprise that the fans will get turned off — and turn the channel. Quelle surprise, as they’d say in the Canadian league, where the focus is still on football:
With the dust settled on Week One, the NFL saw a reduction in most key apples-to-apples comparisons from 2015 to 2016.
Via Forbes, the Thursday night opener between the Panthers and Broncos drew 25.2 million, down eight percent from 2015 (Steelers-Patriots) and six percent from 2014 (Packers-Seahawks). Also, Sunday night’s game between the Patriots and Cardinals generated an audience of 20.65 million. Despite the game being decided at the last second, the audience fell 18 percent in the 18-to-49 demographic, in comparison to last year’s Giants-Cowboys Sunday night opener.
The NFL had two games for Monday night, and ended up with a double flop. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their national following in the opener went to Washington to play the Redskins, followed by the San Francisco 49ers being led by their backup QB in protests, if not in the game against the Los Angeles Rams, the nation’s #2 . Fans showed their appreciation for the NFL’s new political bent by bending the remote elsewhere:
According to SportsBusiness Daily, the ratings for the early game dropped from 9.8 in 2015 (Eagles-Falcons) to 9.1 for Steelers-Washington. The late game had an even bigger decline, with last year’s Vikings-49ers 9.5 shrinking to 7.1 for Rams-49ers.
Yes, with the Rams back in the nation’s No. 2 media market, the audience for a game that swapped out Minnesota for L.A. from one year to the next saw a 2.4-point drop in ratings. Via Richard Deitsch of SI.com, the total audience fell from 14.3 million to 10.3 million.
The quality of the game surely contributed to the decline. But last year’s 20-3 drubbing of the Vikings by the 49ers was a snooze-fest, too. It nevertheless drew four million more eyeballs. (Actually eight million, if we exclude the cyclops demographic.)
The lesson? If the NFL doesn’t want to provide an escape, then fans will create their own escape.
Small wonder that owner Jerry Jones has had enough of the protests on the field during the anthem:
“I got to give a big pat on the back to our entire team, our coaching staff, our entire organization,” Jones said Tuesday during a radio interview with KRLD-FM, the Cowboys’ flagship station. “We strongly, strongly support the flag in every way we support — and it’s almost ridiculous to be saying it — the people who for generations and generations have given it all up so that we can get out here and show off in front of millions of people on television.
“We respect that so much. That’s the real business. The forum of the NFL and the forum on television is a very significant thing. I’m for it being used in every way we can to support the great, great contributors in our society, and that’s people that have supported America, the flag, and there’s no reason not to go all out right there. And for anybody to use parts of that visibility to do otherwise is really disappointing.”
Not as disappointing as the ratings, and don’t think advertisers won’t notice, either. An eight-percent decline in audience will shortly get reflected in ad rates, and those will get reflected in broadcast contracts, which fund the lifestyles of the NFL’s rich and famous. A few more weeks like this, and the owners might start rethinking their social-justice mission on the field and demand that players get back to, y’know, concentrating on their jobs.
Some advertisers are taking a more direct approach:
CenturyLink has parted ways withDenver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. This is the latest endorsement he has lost following his decision to kneel during the national anthem last week.
“We completely respect Brandon Marshall’s personal decision and right to take an action to support something in which he strongly believes,” CenturyLink said in a statement. “America is anchored in the right of individuals to express their beliefs. While we acknowledge Brandon’s right, we also believe that whatever issues we face, we also occasionally must stand together to show our allegiance to our common bond as a nation. In our view, the national anthem is one of those moments. For this reason, while we wish Brandon the best this season, we are politely terminating our agreement with him.”
Yesterday afternoon, I spoke with former NFL great Burgess Owens, a member of the 1981 Oakland Raiders Super Bowl championship team, who sharply criticized players for selfishness and indulgence in “social justice” nonsense. By putting themselves and their politics above the team, they are all but ensuring failure in this season on the field, Owens argued. This appeared as a segment on The Ed Morrissey Show yesterday, but it’s worth watching on its own. Be sure to check out Owens’ new book, Liberalism, or How to Turn Good Men into Whiners, Weenies, and Wimps.