The NFL is in the midst of a significant, self-inflicted PR problem. The numbers from Week 4 are in and there's no reasonable way to explain the dramatic overall decline in viewership without admitting that the league's hypocritical choice to stand behind the National Anthem protests has turned off a large percentage of viewers.
While the NFL fines players for harmless celebrations and blocks them from wearing patriotic cleats in memory of 9/11, it has all but officially endorsed the racially charged, anti-police anthem movement led by Colin Kaepernick and more than 60 other players. The predictable result: a #BoycottNFL movement that continues to grow and an over 5% decline in viewership.
Monday's game was down a whopping 8% from last year's Week 4 game, grabbing only a 9.1 rating. As Forbes' Brandon Katz explains, even when online viewership is included, the numbers are down: "While the number of streaming viewers has increased – last night’s game attracted 262,000 average minute viewers on digital platforms, a 23% increase from last year – total viewership is still trending downward."
The Daily Wire highlighted last week that over the first three weeks the NFL saw its ratings down dramatically across the board on nearly every network, with two MNF games hitting lows not seen in years. Sporting News contributor Pat Imig provided a breakdown of the troubling numbers:
"The NFL Kickoff game on NBC was down from a year ago, and the Week 3 'Sunday Night Football' telecast between major markets Dallas and Chicago was down 7 percent from 2015 (Denver-Detroit). That’s pretty significant when you consider the market sizes.
"We also have seen the two lowest-rated 'Monday Night Football' telecasts since at least 2009, which includes a Week 2 snoozer between Philadelphia and Chicago. The Week 3 contest between Atlanta and New Orleans drew a 5.7 overnight rating, which would be the lowest MNF rating ever on ESPN. The number is down 36 percent from one year ago, with much of that due to the first mudslinging presidential debate."
That #BoycottNFL would have a significant impact on viewership should not come as a surprise to the NFL. During the opening week, Yahoo Sports' survey of 1,128 Americans found that the national anthem protest was a major turn-off for a large percentage of NFL fans. Far more NFL fans opposed the players' choice to disrespect the flag than supported it, while 44% of fans said they would stop watching the NFL if the demonstrations continued. While no one would expect that high a percentage to actually boycott the league, the 7-8% decline in the first four weeks seems about right...