By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There are many reasons why the NFL’s ratings are down in 2016. You may be dismissive of the very idea that the backlash to the national anthem protests, sparked by the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick, has played a role in the NFL’s TV ratings, which have dropped by about 12 percent year-over-year. To continue to dismiss that is to blatantly ignore legitimate data on the subject.
A fresh poll from Seton Hall surveyed 841 adults across the U.S. Each respondent was asked to identify seven separate factors as a reason for the NFL ratings drop, allowing them to answer “yes” or “no” for each of them. The leading factor, according to the poll, was the national anthem protests, which scored “yes” at a rate of 56 percent.
Other answers also scored “yes” at a high rate, including 50 percent of “yeses” for coverage of the presidential election, 47 percent for the league’s handling of domestic violence cases, 44 percent for the over-saturation of the market, 39 percent for increased interest in postseason baseball, and 33 percent for controversy over head injuries and player safety.
Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Interestingly enough, the lowest score, tied with player safety at 33 percent, was “a decline in quality of play on the field.” Many would cite this as the overriding factor to all of this, and it certainly is factoring in. It’s easier to turn the games off for other reasons if the games aren’t fun to watch in the first place.
The point here, however, is that there are many Americans out there who view the players’ national anthem protest as a sign of disrespect to the American flag, the sanctity of which they take very seriously. Hundreds of fans have emailed me on the subject, and many of them agreed with Kaepernick’s right to protest injustices but disagreed with his method of doing so.
In some circles, Kaepernick’s protests have actually had the opposite effect, sparking discussions over the national anthem and patriotism rather than the issue that he wishes to raise awareness of among citizens, police violence against African-Americans. Many emailers have cited the NFL’s decisions to not only allow players to protest the national anthem but disallow the Dallas Cowboys from honoring fallen police officers with a decal on their helmets as a “tipping point” for them to ultimately turn away from pro football.
Kaepernick certainly has a right to protest over that issue, just as now-former NFL viewers have the right to change the channel over what they view as blatant disrespect of the American flag and national anthem. The NFL has long been one of the country’s most popular forms of escapist entertainment, and the injection of social and political issues into the broadcasts has turned a number of fans away. It may not be the only cause for the NFL’s ratings decline, but it may be a bigger factor than you think.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.