NFL Sunday ratings fall after Trump's call for boycott of games
NFL ratings declined on Sunday, though it was unclear whether the drop was related to President Donald Trump's call for fans to boycott the games because of player protests.
Match-ups on Fox and NBC drew fewer viewers than a year earlier, while CBS said the number of people tuning in rose. Monday night's game, featuring major draw Dallas Cowboys, may lift the weekend's ratings. Viewership for the entire season has been down.
Over the weekend, Trump criticized players for kneeling during the national anthem, a practice started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a protest against police brutality and mistreatment of black Americans. Trump said owners should fire players who protested and urged fans to skip watching NFL games.
Debate over the national anthem was "a side issue" that's likely to boost ratings for sports talks shows or pre-game shows, but not affect whether people watch the actual games, said Lee Berke, president of consultant LHB Sports Entertainment & Media.
"People are going to tune in for the match-ups, the stars and hometown teams," Berke said. "I don't see any political controversy causing people to walk away."
Fox said both of its pre-game shows had higher viewership.
On Monday, the president continued his attacks against the league, tweeting the hashtag #StandForOurAnthem and saying the "issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our country, flag and national anthem. NFL must respect this!"
The NBC Sunday night game drew an 11.6 overnight rating, a decline of about 10 percent from the Chicago-Dallas Sunday night match-up in Week 3 last year. CBS said its Sunday games drew an 11.9 overnight rating, a 4 percent increase from a year earlier.
The mixed results could be a sign that competitive match-ups rather than political controversy had a larger impact on whether people tune in. CBS's games included Green Bay's close-fought 27-24 overtime win over Cincinnati while NBC's Sunday night game featured Washington with a 21-0 lead over Oakland with less than five minutes into the third quarter.
Overall, ratings for Sunday's NFL matches were down about 4 percent, according to John Ourand, a reporter at Sports Business Journal. They're likely to be up overall for the week after Monday night's game, he said.
TV networks took the unusual step of airing the national anthems live on Sunday. Owners, broadcasters and league officials criticized Trump over the weekend, and more players than ever kneeled during renditions of the song. Some NFL players also locked arms or held up fists in solidarity. Several teams stayed in the locker room during the anthem.
"We respect individuals' rights to express their views, even if they are not ones we share," said Ford, a major sponsor of the NFL, on Monday. "That's part of what makes America great."
The NFL said Monday it hadn't seen any business impact -- positive or negative -- in the aftermath of the president's comments.
For now, the NFL's broadcast partners are not seeing the same audience boost that other media outlets, from CNN to the New York Times, witnessed after Trump criticized them. That may be partly due to the fact the NFL isn't doing investigative journalism about the Trump administration or because of the diverse political makeup of NFL fans.