Along the sidelines of National Football League games across the country and in London, coaches, support staff and even some owners joined team members in a silent response to Trump’s weekend denunciation of players who kneel during the anthem as unpatriotic.
In a gesture initiated last season by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, several NFL players have routinely “taken one knee” during the playing of the anthem. It is intended to call attention to what the protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.
In Detroit, several members of the Lions knelt while singer Rico Lavelle dropped to one knee and pumped a fist in the air at the end of his performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
President Donald Trump has turned watching football on Sunday, one of America’s most popular activities, into an act of political protest at a time when NFL ratings are already under pressure.
TV networks are already worried about declining viewership of the NFL, which has endured a rash of public relations disasters in recent years. When the latest ratings emerge Monday, the president will be able to use the slightest drop in viewership as proof that fans are fed up with the NFL and its players’ activism. Networks, on the other hand, may use any increase as evidence that politics are bringing added attention to a sport that Standard Media Index says generated a record $3.5 billion in advertising revenue last year.
“There will be a lot of attention paid to ratings, and it will be fascinating to see if more people tune into the beginning of games just to see what happens,” said Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group. With so many forces at play, including viewers’ changing entertainment tastes, “it will be impossible to connect cause and effect.”
NFL ratings were down in nine of 13 time periods through the pro season’s first two weeks, according to Sports Media Watch — a troubling development for the nation’s most-watched networks. The NFL grabs viewers from all ages, demographics, genders, political reliefs and backgrounds, and then feeds them into to other shows like “Bull” and “The Voice.” The Super Bowl is the most-watched TV event every year.
“Thursday Night Football” gave football fans something of a surprise as the San Francisco 49ers hosted the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium in a barn-burner of a football game, ending with an enthralling fourth quarter by the Niners before falling just short of completing the comeback.
But the game also served as a reminder of one of the NFL’s recent woes: poor attendance.
Shots of the stadium, like the one above, made clear that attendance was dismal for the primetime game. Despite claims that attendance was over 70,000, anyone with eyes could see that the stadium was largely empty, with even some of the best seats in the lower bowl left untaken.
As SFGate noted, tickets were available on secondary markets for just $14 — about the price of a beer and hot dog inside the stadium. And still, few people found the time to support the Niners in person.
As of July 2017, ESPN’s ratings already dropped 9 percent compared to the same time period last year. Add that to an already bruising 2016 — in November 2016 alone, more than 600,000 subscribers dropped the network.
Viewership for the entire NFL is down 14 percent this year, according to Pivotal Research. It represents an eight-year low. Last year, ratings fell 9 percent.
Advertising spending is also down. The NFL is experiencing the worst advanced ad sales in a decade. Not since the recession started in 2008 have revenues been this dismal.
A recent J.D. Power survey shows that the national anthem protests are directly to blame for the drop in ratings. The group surveyed a stunning 9,200 fans (a sample of 1,000 is usually used in political polling), and 26 percent of them said they had turned the games off due to the national protests alone.
Since the protests began, the NFL hasn’t been able to contain their players nor the damage caused by their political diatribes. It comes at a time when other media are experiencing the same political outbursts and subsequent drop in ratings.
— Michael Peredo (@MichaelPeredo) September 21, 2017
— FOX Business (@FoxBusiness) September 14, 2016
— The Hill (@thehill) September 24, 2017
Aww, poor baby.
"Donald Twump is mean and he made me cwy!"
— #MAGAZILLA (@kaiju_conserv) September 24, 2017
Sports fans should never condone players that do not stand proud for their National Anthem or their Country. NFL should change policy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
This may be unpopular but it is a political reality:
Every NFL player refusing to stand for the national anthem helps Trump politically.
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) September 24, 2017
We didn't start it, but then I'm happy to divide Americans into normal Americans and those who hate normal Americans.🇺🇸
— Kurt Schlichter (@KurtSchlichter) September 24, 2017
— JamesMarchese MPA JD (@JLMarchese111) September 24, 2017
If only Roger Goodell cared as much about domestic abuse and traumatic brain injury as he does about disrespecting America. #nfl
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) September 25, 2017