Players were kneeling for the anthem during the preseason and a few kneeled during weeks one and two, so the downturn over the last eight days obviously isn’t an organic backlash to protests. This is a “Trump effect” spurred by the rally in Alabama last week, when he called for getting any “son of a bitch” who kneels off the field. That achieved two things, raising awareness of the protests for casual fans who might not have otherwise paid attention and entangling himself in the story, putting partisan pressure on right-wingers to back him up by giving the NFL a thumbs down.
To no one’s surprise, the league front office has indeed quietly met with the players and owners about finding a way out of this clusterfark. No ultimatums were issued or threats made but it was clear enough at the meeting, apparently, that the owners and bean-counters want the protests to end ASAP. The more dismal the numbers they have to show the players by way of ratings and ticket sales to prove that fans are tuning out, the more the players will start thinking of their own bottom lines. It’s not a coincidence, I’m sure, that protests seem to be shifting in the past few days from kneeling to standing with locked arms.
Morning Consult’s going to help the owners make their case with this survey:
NFL’s Brand Favorability Drops To Lowest Point Since Morning Consult Started Tracking: The NFL’s net favorability has dropped from 30% on September 21 to 17% on September 28…
On September 21, 25% of Trump supporters said they had a very favorable view of the NFL and 11% had a very unfavorable view.
As of Sept 28, those numbers have dramatically changed with 33% of Trump supporters say they have a very unfavorable view of the NFL and 16% report having a very favorable view.
From +14 among Trump supporters the day before the Alabama rally to -17 a week later. You can chalk some of that reversal up to the fact that 40 percent of the public, including a plurality of Trump voters (48 percent), now believes that the point of the demonstrations is mostly to protest Donald Trump himself. Which isn’t entirely untrue: It was POTUS’s “son of a bitch” criticism that inspired team-wide demonstrations last weekend, after all. Some of the kneeling is obviously a rebuke to his criticism, not only to police violence against blacks.
So the NFL’s taken a hit. How about Trump himself? Well…
Presidential job approval’s a complicated thing since there are always half a dozen major stories on the White House’s plate. Graham-Cassidy collapsed this week; Puerto Rico’s trying to dig itself out from catastrophe; the White House has gotten bad press from Tom Price’s private-jet escapades. Etc etc etc. There’s no way to know what’s chiefly driving that spike in disapproval at the far right side of the graph. But the timeline is what it is: The day after the Alabama rally, which lit the fuse on the NFL powderkeg, Trump was at 40/54 in approval. As of yesterday he had sunk to 36/59. He *might* be getting some blowback from wading into the anthem-protest mess.
The RCP poll average also shows him sinking over the past week although the data there is even more ambiguous. Some of the polls with truly gruesome approval numbers for him this month (Quinnipiac, CBS) had gruesome numbers for him in previous polls as well, suggesting that there’s been no sharp downturn in his support. And some of those polls were in the field before the Alabama rally, which, to the extent that Trump’s approval really has declined recently, may mean that he was beginning to slide even before the NFL business. It’s possible that both are true — his numbers were inching down already as the goodwill from his handling of hurricanes Harvey and Irma faded and then the NFL stuff pushed them down further. Hard to say. But the timing is interesting.
Exit quotation from an NFL advisor speaking to the Times, on letting Trump “punch himself out” in his war with the league: “When he thinks he’s winning, he doubles down and doubles down, and there are very few entities that have the skill, desire and thick skin to take it. So it’s a war of attrition.”