If it’s not a boycott that explains this, what does? There was nothing special on TV last night to compete with the Sunday night game, as there was a week ago when the Emmys went head to head with it. That game did better than last night’s game ratings-wise.
Maybe this is actually a double boycott, not just turning off the NFL at Trump’s urging but turning off ESPN specifically. Darren Rovell notes that CBS’s two daytime games, by comparison, were down only one percent from this time last year. Although, if this is an ESPN thing, how to account for the fact that Fox’s daytime game ratings also tanked?
Fox’s single-header game, which featured the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Eagles in many markets, was down 16 percent, compared to Week 3 of last season, which featured the Giants playing the Washington Redskins.
Sunday Night Football’s decline was more drastic, as Sunday’s game between the Redskins and the Oakland Raiders was the lowest-rated Week 3 game, from metered markets, since 2006.
Ratings for the game were down 9 percent versus last week (Packers-Falcons) and 11 percent versus last year’s Week 3 game.
You could understand a Buccaneers/Chargers match-up, say, tanking due to simple lack of national interest, but Raiders/Redskins? C’mon. Likewise, a divisional game involving a New York team, as bad as the Giants are this year, isn’t an obvious candidate for a double-digit ratings slide on Fox, especially when it ended up being decided on the final play. Unless these preliminary ratings are far off the final numbers for some strange reason a boycott does seem to be in effect, for now. And it’s big enough to make noise in the Nielsens.
Trump will take credit, deservedly, but note that Republicans were primed for a boycott before he called for one. Here’s new data released today by the Cato Institute based on a survey conducted in late August, long before Trump’s “son of a bitch” comments in Alabama on Friday night. Question: Should the NFL fire a player who refuses to stand for the anthem before a game?
Republicans, conservatives, and senior citizens — three groups that substantially overlap — were the only subgroups tested in which a majority supported firing. All others opposed it, producing an overall split of 38/61 against.
Until now, I thought righties also opposed firing people for their politics, as in the cases of Brendan Eich and James Damore. It was interesting watching people grapple with that inconsistency on Twitter this weekend. For some it was a straightforward matter of patriotism: The flag and the anthem deserve special respect, whatever the merits of one’s underlying cause. For others it was a matter of protesting *at* work: Brendan Eich was forced out over a political donation he’d made on his own dime and his own time whereas the players are using their place of business to push their causes. (Never mind that the NFL has backed them up in protesting.) For others still it was a matter of deterrence: Precisely *because* the left feels comfortable taking scalps like Eich’s and Damore’s, liberal scalps need to be taken too when the opportunity arises. If you want to discourage bad behavior, make it costly. I think that’s delusional — mainstreaming this on both sides will lead to more scalp-taking in the aggregate, not less. And I suspect that “deterrence” in some cases is just a fig leaf for the envy that righties understandably feel towards leftists who claim moral license for their own tribal viciousness. “If the left can be awful for supposedly reasonable reasons, so should we!”
Whatever the explanation, there’s no doubt that Trump’s sanction will lead to more support among Republicans for firing players who take a knee. If 65 percent of GOPers were in favor before he piped up, probably 80 percent will be soon. Should that translate into a sustained boycott, with ratings depressed for several weeks, I assume the league will start weighing whether to do away with the anthem entirely before games, to push politics completely out of the stadium. If you’re caught between strong opposition to the protests on the right and broad if tepid support for letting players protest if they like among the general public, the only way to square the circle is to take away the opportunity at the game while standing by the players’ right to be activist away from it. It’d be a perfect microcosm of the country’s political divisions right now if the NFL had to suspend playing the national anthem because the activity around it inflamed people on both sides too much.
Here’s Chiefs QB Alex Smith wondering yesterday why Trump couldn’t condemn “violent neo-Nazis” after Charlottesville but could condemn “son of a bitch” NFL players for taking a knee during the anthem to protest police brutality against blacks. Trump did condemn the neo-Nazis but this is what his equivocation afterward about “very fine people” on both sides has gotten him, the perception that he’s more bothered by Kaepernick kneeling than he is by white nationalist marches or the police brutality that inspired the NFL protests. If you’re more apt to call NFL players sons of bitches than David Duke or Richard Spencer, yeah, you’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt.
Update: Ahhhhhhh, right. Sunday Night Football is on NBC, not ESPN. It only took me four hours to sniff this brain fart. Apologies for the error. Anyway, the ratings decline obviously isn’t just an ESPN thing.