In the latest sign that viewers are turning out in droves over the politicization of professional sports, the Associated Press reports that through the first three weeks of the NFL season, viewership for national telecasts of NFL games is down 11% compared with 2016, Nielsen company said on Tuesday. While games had averaged 17.63 million viewers during the first three weeks of last season, that number has dipped to just 15.65 million so far this year.
The Nielsen figures don’t include many of the Sunday afternoon games that are shown to a regional audience, but not a national one.
The report is the latest sign that NFL ratings are, in fact, sliding, as President Donald Trump has claimed. Earlier this week, NBC reported a week-over-week, and year-over-year, drop in ratings for “Sunday Night Football” as the primetime match-up between the 27-10 winning Washington Redskins and the Oakland Raiders snared an 11.6/20. That’s the worst rating for SNF this season.
During the game, the Redskins linked arms last night, while nearly every single Raiders player sat on the bench during the anthem.
However, not every network saw a ratings dip. Bloomberg reports that CBS, whose Sunday night games included a closely fought matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Cincinnati Bengals, experienced a small ratings bump, probably because the close score drew in more viewers.
President Trump has notably called for fans to boycott the NFL until owners adopt rules firing or sanctioning players who refuse to stand for the National Anthem. The feud between Trump and the league started Friday night when the president said any player who would kneel is a “son of a b***h” who deserves to be fired, adding that any owner who cracks down on protests would be "the most popular person in the country - for a week at least." NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Patriots owner Robert Kraft both said they were disappointed that Trump had "disrespected" the league in such a way.
Earlier today, Trump tweeted that he had spoken with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who earlier this week linked arms and kneeled with his team after the Anthem finished playing, drawing a chorus of boos. The President suggested that the owner had promised him that players would stand for the anthem in the future.
Spoke to Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys yesterday. Jerry is a winner who knows how to get things done. Players will stand for Country!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 27, 2017
And as the AP notes, next week’s ratings will be even more closely watched, since conservative groups and Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity have joined in Trump’s calls for fans to boycott games.
So, the question for NFL franchise owners remains - if players continue to take a knee, will viewers join them?