Through the first four weeks of the NFL season viewership on major networks is down about 10% from last season. Even ratings for Monday Night Football are down. A multitude of reasons have been speculated for this decline: loss of viewers to the presidential news cycle, declining quality on the field, the absence of marquee names such as Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Tony Romo, and Colin Kaepernick backlash. Fans may be protesting the protesters.
As national anthem protests begun by Colin Kaepernick spread throughout the NFL in order to bring attention to issues of social injustice and racial inequality in the United States, many fans have expressed their anger at these actions. A Yahoo/YouGov poll found that 47% of respondents opposed the anthem protests. This same poll found that 44% of NFL fans said they would stop watching football if more NFL players started following Kaepernick’s example.
Similarly, in a recent Rasmussen poll 32% of respondents said they are less likely to watch an NFL game because of the growing number of Black Lives Matter protests by players on the field.
However, to attribute the decline in ratings to Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players who engage in the national anthem protests seems inaccurate. Viewership for live sports has been on the decline, the NFL simply hadn’t experienced the same falls as other sports. The NFL is overtly patriotic, even if it has been paid for by the U.S. military. But the revelation of this patriotism-for-pay scandal did not seem to move the needle with fans.
It’s not as though the NFL, NFL coaches, NFL commentators or NFL players universally support these protests. Many vehemently oppose them. Numerous NFL teams are not participating in the protests at all.
In what way do these protests ruin the viewing experience? A few players on some NFL teams kneel and/or raise their fist during the national anthem before the game starts. NFL players didn’t even stand for the national anthem until 2009. And until these protests increased the entertainment value of the anthem, it wasn’t shown on television. Did that stop fans from watching the games?
You don’t have to watch the national anthem. Unless the very thought of a potentially kneeling player ruins your viewing experience. In that case, you probably weren’t much of a fan in the first place.