While mainstream media outlets like the New York Times have continued to assert that the dip in NFL ratings that began last season is in no way connected to the controversy surrounding players kneeling during the National Anthem, yet another poll has reaffirmed what many football fans have suspected for weeks: The protests have transformed the NFL into the least popular professional sports league in America.
From the end of August to the end of September, the favorable ratings for the NFL have dropped from 57% to 44%, 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 calls from President Trump for fans to boycott the league or “walk out” of games if they see players taking a knee has apparently turned off men aged 34-54 – one of the league’s most important demographics and a troubling sign that the league isn’t in touch with its fans. 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 analysis of the poll cited by the Washington Examiner, the "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 Winston Poll was of brand images for the NFL, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and college football and basketball. It was of 1,000 registered voters and taken August 29-30 and then again Sept. 28 to Sept. 29.
September Winston Poll
- MLB/63 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.
- College football/51 percent favorable to 21 percent unfavorable.
- NBA/46 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable.
- College basketball/45 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable.
- NFL/44 percent favorable to 40 percent unfavorable
And for anybody who believes the controversy is confined to a red state vs. blue state issue, data shows that NFL is equally well-liked among Republicans and Democrats – suggesting that both liberals and conservatives are outraged over what Trump characterized as "disrespecting our heritage."
The survey isn’t the first to document this phenomenon: A J.D. Power survey showed that NFL fans did in fact tune out in droves because of the disrespect and protest of the National Anthem before games.
The pollster said it asked more than 9,200 people who attended either one football, basketball or hockey game whether they tuned into fewer games and why. Twenty-six percent of those who watched fewer games last season said they were put off by the anthem protests.