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NFL Viewing Ratings Slide as Protests Continue

ByRuaidhri Power

Oct 30, 2017

Last month The Student reported on protests in American sport during the national anthem, with sports stars taking a knee during the national anthem in protest against police violence towards black people in the USA. The protests have continued and expanded since then and viewing ratings and business has taken a sharp decline for American Football teams and associated companies.

This begs the question: should we listen to Donald Trump?

In September, Trump called for the protests to end as he believed that it showed a lack of respect for the American nation and its war veterans. Despite being the president, Trump is primarily a businessman and may have a more educated opinion on this matter than he has been given credit for.

We must be careful not to give Trump too much credit here, as comments such as “disrespect of our heritage” and “That guy disrespects our flag” clearly suggest that his argument is founded upon nationalistic tendencies, however NFL teams and players could perhaps be doing themselves a favour by listening to him.

Week six of the NFL season saw just over 15 million viewers tune in to watch the matches, which shows an 8.2 percent drop from the 2016 season and a sizeable 18.7 percent drop from the 2015 season. Whilst this arguably shows a general decline in the popularity of televised American football, the protests are clearly not helping the viewing numbers of the game.

The American television network CBS, who televise a number of NFL matches every week, have received warnings that if the downwards trend in ratings does not stop, then they could face a slice in earnings of up to five percent. Advertising companies have also expressed concerns over the potential loss of billions of dollars if viewership does not increase.

These facts clearly show that the protests are damaging the televised reception of American Football and this has repercussions not only for the popularity of the game itself, but also for the many companies and businesses associated with the sport.

The protests are undeniably an expression of social discontent and they address an extremely important issue that American society faces today, but the immediate consequences are undeniably negative for the teams and companies involved. Perhaps politics and sports do not mix in such a positive way after all.

John Mara, the long-standing owner of the New York Giants, the third most successful team in NFL history, has taken a more positive view on the impact of the protests. In a recent interview he stated that there is “no question” that the protests are bad for viewing numbers, however he claims that they address “an important social issue” and that sometimes “you have to put the interest of business behind issues that are more important.”

Mara’s view is admittedly a noble one that accepts the importance of the issue of police brutality and the status of black Americans, however it is not a view that will be shared by all, not least by Donald Trump. What started as a few players sitting out during the national anthem has become a nationwide movement, with dozens of players and coaches taking a knee before each game. Very soon, it will start costing companies billions of dollars and could put people out of jobs.

Perhaps that is a price that America will have to pay in order to achieve social equality, but it will have drastic short-term effects, as the partisan sides have already begun to form.

Donald Trump represents the pragmatic economic goals of American capitalists and if we are to look at the protests from his standpoint, it must be accepted that he is not wrong in the sense that they will damage American business in the coming months. Yet this argument may not be strong enough to outweigh the beliefs of the protesters who strive for social equality.

The NFL has decided to meet with players and their representatives at the start of November in order to try and reach a solution that suits all parties, however this may not be enough to prevent the damage to American business and the dwindling popularity of American Football that the protests may cause.


Image courtesy of Alan Kotok

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