NFL anthem protests continue, as does the drop in TV ratings

Thanksgiving Day NFL football games featured more anthem protests by players.  And while the number of TV viewers isn't available yet, the previous week's TV viewership continued to decline over last year.

The games featured a million fewer viewers in week 11 this year compared to 2016.

New York Post:

The 6.3 percent slump – worsening from comparable declines of 5.6 to 5.7 percent during the previous three weeks – plagued a week whose off-the-field drama made gridiron tackling seem almost tame by comparison.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones remained the major distraction by continuing to battle with fellow team owners and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Jones brought even more tension to Week 11 when video footage surfaced late last week of the football tycoon making a racially charged remark at a 2013 wedding party.

President Donald Trump added to the off-field antics with a tweet calling for the suspension of the Oakland Raiders' Marshawn Lynch for not standing for the national anthem during a game played in Mexico City.

Only two games had audience gains.

The NBC "SNF" during which the Philadelphia Eagles whopped the Dallas Cowboys 37 to 9 managed to attract 12 percent more viewers than the comparable contest a year ago.

Fox's single header on Sunday, which saw the New Orleans Saints sneak past the Washington Redskins 34 to 31, drew 10 percent more viewers.

After starting 11.8 percent behind last year's TV audience for NFL games in Week 1, league viewership had either held its own or narrowed the gap through Week 8.

As with other posts we've written about NFL TV viewership, there are several important factors that may impact the ratings that have nothing to do with the protests.

There are always going to be week to week variations based on weather, the competitiveness of the games, and the match-ups.  There is also the fact that people are unplugging from cable and satellite and switching to streaming services. 

But what is undeniable about the anthem protests and their impact on the game is the severe – perhaps irreparable – damage done to the NFL brand.  The game has the highest negative numbers of any major sport:

From the end of August to the end of September, the favorable ratings for the NFL have dropped from 57 percent to 44 percent, and it has the highest unfavorable rating – 40 percent – of any big sport, according to the Winston Group survey provided exclusively to Secrets.

Worse for football, which was already seeing lower TV ratings and empty stadium seats, the month of protests and complaints about them from President Trump drove core fans, men 34-54, away, the most significant indicator that NFL brass aren't in touch with their base.

The Winston Poll from the Washington-based Winston Group found that the attitude of those fans went from an August rating of 73 percent favorable and 19 percent unfavorable to 42 percent favorable and 47 percent unfavorable, a remarkable turn against the sport.

According to the poll analysis, "more critically for the NFL, the fall off in favorables occurred among important audiences. Among males, NFL favorables fell 23 percent, going from 68 percent to 45 percent. In looking at a more specific audience, males 34-54, NFL favorables fell 31 percent, going from 73 percent to 42 percent. Among this group the NFL has a surprising negative image, as it went from +54 percent in August to -5 percent in September."

The NFL can no longer bill itself as "America's game."  The perception of the league has been radically altered and it's unclear how they are going to get viewers back.  Some may be lost forever due to the way people are now getting their entertainment.  But people are angry, and as long as the protests continue, that anger is not going away.