NFL Ratings: Trump Effect Topped By Good Football

lose-up shot of the NFL Events application icon from NFL Enterprises LLC on an iPhone on Oct. 1.
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Good football trumped politics in regards to NFL ratings, according to a USA Today study released Tuesday after examining the sports’ televised viewership in 37 markets in 2016 and 2017.

The newspaper reported that they did find some evidence of a so-called “Trump effect” after President Donald Trump bashed the NFL for allowing players to take a knee in silent protest during the national anthem over that time, but added it was “at best, weak.”

“What really stood out was that people stuck with football if there was a ‘football reason’ to watch,” the USA Today study concluded after examining data from Comscore. “The data show that quality football and home team loyalty drove the TV audience far more than political tribalism.”

USA Today noted that while the five biggest NFL ratings drops happened in regions where Trump won handily during the 2016 presidential election, it also revealed that “bad football” was being played by the teams in those areas.

The newspaper said in most cases, a struggling NFL team resulting in lower ratings regardless of politics. USA Today pointed out that in Phoenix, the league’s rating tumbled by 27 percent as the Arizona Cardinals fell from Super Bowl contender to also-rans. The Cardinals finished third in the NFC West with an 8-8 record and out of the playoffs.

Ditto for Dallas Cowboys fans in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Arkansas. Ratings in those areas, which support the Cowboys, dropped by 20 percent as the team failed to make the playoffs last year as well after having one of the best records in the NFL in 2016, per USA Today.

Trump won easily in both areas in the 2016 presidential election.

Fans at Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars preseason NFL game in August at the TIAA Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida.
Fans at the Atlanta Falcons vs. Jacksonville Jaguars preseason NFL game in August at the TIAA Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. Jamie Lamor Thompson / Shutterstock

In New Orleans, a Trump stronghold, NFL ratings jumped in 2017 as the Saints won eight straight games and made the playoffs, USA Today noted. In Minnesota, a Democratic state, NFL ratings were also up as the Vikings reached the playoffs.

Richard Lapchick, Chair of DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and an expert on the intersection of politics and sport, told USA Today while it’s impossible to discount politics, there are so many other factors that are also at play.

“You have those factors that are hard to figure out exactly — the regional base, the southern nature of Oklahoma City and Little Rock,” Lapchick told the newspaper. “And Arizona is probably a similar grounding in politics. And of course, not having a good team definitely hurt.”

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the national anthem before his football games in 2016 to protest what he believed to be police brutality against African-Americans.

Other players joined in the silent protest in 2016, as Trump weighed in saying last year that he believed NFL players should be fired for not standing for the anthem, per ESPN.