The NFL is hemorrhaging TV viewers, and ratings are down so far that even Wall Street is paying attention. Are the national anthem protests, where players lock arms or kneel instead of standing for the anthem, to blame?
As CNBC reports, there is no doubt that the NFL’s ratings are in the toilet, continuing a nosedive that started during the 2016-2017 season. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the trend of players kneeling for the national anthem instead of standing.
Here are the specifics, and they are not good.
- By this point in the 2016-2017 season, NFL viewership was down 12 percent from the 2015-2016 season.
- Now in the 2017-2018 season, ratings are down seven percent from the already-dismal 2016-2017 season.
- Things are especially bad in the NFL’s Monday-night franchise as ratings for Monday Night Football are down 18 percent for the Week 10 game compared to 2016, and they are down 20 percent for Week 9.
- A Falcons-Cowboys game this season was off 24 percent from the same game in 2016.
It’s not just the NFL itself that’s feeling the pain from its declining TV ratings as the networks that host the games for national audiences are also taking a hit. Last month, international market watcher Omar Sheikh of Credit Suisse cut CBS’ earning projections specifically because of lost revenue from tanking NFL ratings, as well as cutting Fox’s earning projections for the same reason.
— NFL (@NFL) November 16, 2017
CBS Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves has taken notice.
“Look, the NFL, obviously there’s been a lot going on. The ratings are down a bit this year… we’re still happy we have the NFL.”
So, what has caused the precipitous drop in NFL ratings? That depends largely on whom you ask. Analysts attempted to blame the 2016-2017 drop on the election year taking more of Americans’ attention, even though viewership picked up in November after the election had taken place. This year, analysts have pointed to hurricanes disrupting major markets in Florida and Texas, where several NFL teams play.
But there’s no discounting the controversy generated by the national anthem protests. In fact, none other than President Donald Trump, who has publicly stated that “any son of a b***h” who doesn’t stand for the national anthem should be fired, has made no secret that he believes the anthem protests are killing the NFL’s ratings.
…NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Over at CBS, Moonves admits that the anthem protests are at least part of the issue.
“Obviously, there were political issues that came up about kneeling during the anthem, and it became very controversial.”
Forbes writer Jonathan Berr, however, sees other issues, in addition to the anthem protests, taking their toll on the NFL’s bottom line. Specifically, he points to boring games (offenses are so accurate that turnovers are rare these days), bad teams in big markets, an uninspiring team in L.A. (the nation’s second-biggest TV market), an aging fan base, the dreaded cord-cutting (that is, ditching cable or satellite TV in favor of other options), and the NFL’s failure to properly address long-term damage from head injuries for the overall decline.
Regardless of the cause(s) of the decline, one thing is clear. If the NFL doesn’t get its act together, its hemorrhaging ratings are likely to bring its TV broadcasters down with it.
[Featured Image by Grant Halverson/Getty Images]