Boycott? Monday Night Football posts best ratings of the season to date

How to square this with the emerging “boycott is happening” narrative from Sunday’s NBC and Fox ratings? It’s possible that a bunch of casual fans who normally don’t watch tuned in last night to see if there’d be a pre-game protest, artificially inflating the ratings. But if that were true, Sunday’s ratings should have been up too.

Imagine if NFL ratings ended up *increasing* this year after Trump attacked the league for being unpatriotic. That’d be the most embarrassing political own-goal since, uh, backing Luther Strange against a red-state populist when Strange was trailing consistently by 10 points in the polls.

Here was POTUS early this morning, previewing the “people are watching to see if there’s a boycott” spin…

…and here’s NBC, chirping happily about last night’s solid ratings:

Cowboys-Cardinals got a 9.3 overnight rating for ESPN, easily the highest-rated Monday night game of the year. That came despite some talk that the controversy surrounding players kneeling during the national anthem would depress NFL ratings…

[T]he four Monday Night Football games so far this season have averaged a 7.8 overnight rating, compared to a 6.5 overnight rating for the first four Monday Night Football games last season. And even if you throw out the game that went up against the debate last year, Monday Night Football is up year to date over the 2016 average.

For the weekend as a whole, ESPN and CBS were up, NBC and FOX were down, and on aggregate ratings across the NFL were up about 3 percent from Week Three last year.

Trump’s right about ratings increasing for the pre-game and then declining during the games themselves. Ratings across the three networks were down an average of four percent on Sunday from this time last year but ratings for the pre-game shows were way up. Still, CBS’s 1 p.m. games did well, as did last night’s ESPN game. According to a Rasmussen poll taken last week, before Trump’s “son of a bitch” comments in Alabama, 34 percent of voters said they were less likely to watch the NFL due to the anthem protests. That’s a big pool of would-be defectors. There may be a boycott happening but not one that’s large enough yet to put a dent in Monday Night Football, unless they were offset by a large crowd of rubberneckers who tuned in for the pre-game politics and inexplicably declined to change the channel for three hours afterward.

In all likelihood what we’re seeing is a “soft boycott” where fans are less likely to sit through bad games but will set aside their political annoyance for good ones. If the Cowboys are playing the Cardinals, even an unhappy Trump supporter might grit his teeth and settle in for Dak Prescott versus Larry Fitzgerald. If it’s the Jets versus the Giants? Click. To hell with these unpatriotic millionaire ingrates.

Here’s Hillary last night on MSNBC sticking the knife in Trump, wondering why he’s so comfortable attacking black athletes but not white supremacists. Her criticisms of him are getting harsher; she also wondered in an interview yesterday if he knows that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Exit question via WaPo reporter Wesley Lowery: Why were the Cowboys booed last night for kneeling before the anthem? Was that standard razzing of the visiting team, or was it a clue that opposition to the protests isn’t about disrespecting the flag after all?

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David Strom 9:21 PM on February 02, 2023