NFL ratings dropped about 12 percent in the opening weekend, with analysts blaming everything from Hurricane Irma to viewer indignation over players protests of the National Anthem in support of free agent Colin Kaepernick, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Few are willing to point to Kaepernick fan support because, well, that would force them to take a hard look at what he’s protesting–the unchecked killing and oppression of Black bodies.
While NFL games remain some of the most-viewed television events, a J.D. Power survey in July found that 30 percent of the viewers watched less football in 2016 than during prior seasons in part because they were offended by players protesting the anthem, the report says. Survey participants also complained about game delays, problems with domestic violence among players, too many commercial breaks, presidential election coverage, among other things, the report says.
With that said, the viewership slide could be considered a win for some Kaepernick supporters, who are calling for a boycott of the NFL until the quarterback signs with a team. In 2016, Kaepernick began a silent protest against police brutality. Nearly a year after he became a free agent, he remains unemployed despite leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl.
Few networks and analysts are willing to equate the viewership slide to fans protesting the NFL’s failure to sign Kaepernick, except CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus. He says an internal study by his network indicates that the protests played some kind of role in declining average viewers, according to Sports Illustrated.
But the issue remains up for debate in some television circles. Mike Mulvihill, executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy for Fox Sports, told Sports Illustrated that any “NFL viewer backlash to Kaepernick was not a factor in the NFL declines. He made his point based on the total number of people that watched any amount of the NFL regular season—a number that grew by five million viewers.”
CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC are expected to generate about $2.5 billion in NFL advertising revenue in the 2017-2018 season, The Hollywood Reporter writes, but a 10 percent shortfall could result in a $200 million cut in earnings.
“Since the NFL season opened Sept. 7, shares of NBC parent Comcast are off 9 percent, ESPN parent Disney has seen its stock drop 3 percent and shares of CBS are down 5 percent,” The Hollywood Reporter writes. “Only shares of 21st Century Fox have risen in that time frame, up 2 percent.”
Indeed, it is just two weeks into the season and ratings could improve or not, but Kaepernick’s protests are forcing an important conversation. And we will take that until the problem evolves into positive change and action.