Two weeks ago, National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said, as the Associated Press paraphrased it, that he "disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the national anthem, but recognizes the quarterback’s right to protest." Sunday night, Goodell seemed to go all-in with the players, telling AP (again, accurately paraphrased) that he "is encouraged by the direction players are taking with demonstrations related to the national anthem."
The Commissioner might want to reconsider. For the second straight week, the NFL's year-over-year ratings were down considerably, and, according to a poll discussed on Fox Sports, the antics of players from several teams during the national anthem represent a significant factor in that decline.
Here are the reactions of Brandon Katz at Forbes.com to the results after the league's nationally televised Sunday and Monday night games (links are in original stories; bolds are mine):
(After Sunday night game)
NFL's 'Sunday Night Football' Tumbles Hard In Ratings Yet Again
According to Deadline, the primetime portion of last night’s game scored a 13.7/22 in Nielsen’s metered market ratings as the Vikings went on to beat the Packers 17-14. Not only is that down 18% from last year’s ratings, it’s also a 9% dip compared to the SNF opener just last week.
(After Monday night game)
NFL's 'Monday Night Football' Continues To Fall In Ratings
... The lukewarm numbers mark an 11% dip from last year’s Week 2 game between the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts.
In fact, these ratings are the lowest ever for a Week 2 MNF game and cement a fourth consecutive year of decline for the NFL, according to Rich Greenfield.
... One of the main culprits for the NFL’s ratings struggles appears to be the ongoing National Anthem protest spearheaded by San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A table seen at the Monday night story link shows how steep the decline is:
While Katz cited several other factors contributing to the decline seen above in his two posts, he didn't ignore "one of the main culprits," namely some players' national anthem antics, which began several weeks ago with 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and have now been extended to the black-power fists raised by three Philadelphia Eagles players Monday night.
Mike Florio at NBC Sports, who on video acknowledged the possibility that Kaepernick et al are having a negative impact last week, did not mention the damage they might be doing in his Tuesday Week 2 ratings review text post.
A poll published on Monday shows that those who think that the protesting players aren't hurting the league's popularity, and that they could potentially have a grave impact on the livelihoods of all involved, from the executive suites to the concession stands, could not be more wrong:
A new Yahoo Sports/YouGov survey indicates that Americans remain deeply divided about the ongoing national anthem protests in the NFL, with 44 percent of fans claiming they would actually stop watching the NFL if the protests continue.
Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock, who was last seen at NewsBusters on Sunday going after "Social Justice Warriors" trying to glorify Kaepernick, discussed this poll at Fox Sports on Tuesday. Note how Cowherd tried to sideline Whitlock and downplay and distract from the impact of his powerful statements:
Transcript (through the first 1:42):
COLIN COWHERD: Back to the most talked-about backup of all time, Colin Kaepernick. According to a new poll conducted by Yahoo Sports, 44% of Americans say they would give up football — give it up! — if the Kaepernick protest continues to expand. Jason, believe the poll?
JASON WHITLOCK: I don't believe 44%. I do believe in the sentiment that if this continues to expand, it's turning off football fans. Again, I keep talking about football culture, and what football culture is —
WHITLOCK: and religious. And these values, these hyper left-wing values, that Kaepernick and these other guys are bringing to the table, it's disruptive to the culture of football.
COWHERD: Now this poll was taken two days after 9/11.
WHITLOCK (in seeming disbelief): I don't think that matters. I think again, people who love football, religious and conservative overwhelming —
COWHERD: That's how (Tim) Tebow got so popular.
WHITLOCK: Absolutely. This fists in the air, the disrespect for the flag, the bringing up — the unnuanced, unfair demonization of police. Because again, name me as a black person. Do I want to be judged as a group by the worst behavior of a few black people, the way we're judging the police based on the worst behavior of a few people?
We are demonizing the entire police force, and Kaepernick has done that with the socks and some of his statements. It's an unnuanced attack which makes people uncomfortable, and I do believe people will push away from football after this crash (last word unclear).
COWHERD: People say a lot of things though.
Cowherd then went into a discussion of fans' involvement with betting and fantasy football, as if those are reasons that significant hemorrhaging of interest and viewership might not occur.
Serious betting doesn't involve more than a few million people. As to fantasy football, do the math. As of last year, just before the NFL season began:
(American Express's) latest Spending & Saving Tracker said 74.7 million Americans plan to participate in fantasy football this year, spending $4.6 billion, company spokeswoman Jane Di Leo said.
The figures cited amount to a "whopping" $62 per person. According to the cited article, "29 percent will not wager." That leaves about 53 million people spending $87 per person. Fantasy football is a cheap source of fun for most people, and certainly not a bulwark against getting turned off by players' immature and uninformed antics, especially since there are so many other fantasy sports available.
Cowherd moved into a discussion about the trajectory of various sports through the years, and tried to claim that the league's ratings drop may be just because of the "cyclical nature of sports."
When they got back on point, Whitlock again delivered the goods:
(beginning at the 2:58 mark)
WHITLOCK: If the perception of football is that it's gone hyper-hyper liberal, and particularly in an unfair way, and —
COWHERD: It might turn off some people.
WHITLOCK: 100 percent. When you have guys making — listen, the NFL is 67 percent black, and I don't know if I can statistically back this up, but it's probably made more black millionaires as an industry than any other industry in America over the past 20 years. And these are the guys, this is the place where you want to have this kind of chaos and disruption?
Again, I'll go back to it again. Football has been good to us. Take your protests and disruptions to the police headquarters. That's where you have the problem, not on the football field.
Ouch. You won't see or hear very many, if any, other sports commentators making Whitlock's painful points.
One quibble with both men: Football is not the sole province of conservatives and religious people. If it were, the fan base of the New England Patriots in ultrablue Massachusetts wouldn't be nearly as large as it is.
Even if only one-third of those surveyed follow through on their promise to abandon the NFL if the anthem antics don't stop, that would be a huge 15 percent decline which ripple through the entire industry.
Is Roger "encouraged by the direction" Goodell paying attention?
Are the owners he works for paying attention?
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.