NBC’s Sunday night NFL match-up between the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins was not a ratings magnet. While the match-up itself saw one team dominate the other in a less-than-exciting game, the decline in viewership may have also been caused by controversy on the field.
Viewership for the Sunday night game was down 11 percent from the comparable night last year. It averaged a preliminary overnight rating of 11.5 among households, a low for this season. It was also down 9 percent from the week before.
The weekend was riddled with news about NFL players kneeling during the anthem, or locking arms in solidarity. The controversial move began last season, with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Many NFL players have decided to kneel in protest of the way they perceive police treat people of color. The trend was started by Kaepernick who, in 2016, said, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color… There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
The NFL and its players were put on the defense this weekend, in particular, after President Donald J. Trump suggested Friday, during an Alabama rally, that players who kneel should be removed or suspended from their teams. After multiple players, and the league itself, spoke out against the remarks, the president doubled down by suggesting that fans boycott the games.
The 2017 NFL season, like the 2016 season, has seen a ratings decline. However, to date, the decline has not been enough to keep the NFL from being a ratings giant, according to reports. Sunday Night Football alone has averaged 22.3 million viewers since it began this season, two weeks ago. The broadcast is also hitting a key demographic: 18-49-year-olds.
Still, the decline is not good for the NFL, the networks that broadcast it, or its advertisers. According to Forbes, when the NFL saw a ratings dip last year, many felt it would be temporary, and not affect networks in the long run. With 2017 also showing a decline, with ratings worse this season and attendance down for some games, it isn’t good news.
“The networks will pay over $5 billion this season to televise the NFL and were already facing unflattering margins on advertising profits,” Forbes reports. They say according to some sources, the “drop in NFL ratings could trim the broadcaster’s earnings by $200 million.”
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