The National Football League has observed a double-digit decline in television ratings across the board of networks this 2016 season.
Down 29% since last season, there are several recognized underlying assumptions attributing to the decline including the abandoning of traditional television viewing and increased politically active Americans.
Various findings suggest that as media outlets become more fragmented and specialized, viewers are less inclined to seek information through the television medium. However, a Gallop poll found television is still American’s main source of news and a prominent feature comprising individuals lives, thus the decline can not solely be attributed to increased media.
Moreover, effects of the underlying factors causing the decline are affecting all networks on each night of the week including FOX/CBS on Sunday afternoons, NBC on Sunday nights, and ESPN on Monday nights.
These findings are concerning due to the historical importance American’s have placed on sports media consumption. As a result, $50 billion has been committed to the televised sport production by the National Football League until the early 2020s.
While individual media consumption and interest is likely to be a factor, researchers are currently interested in the political activity within our society as an underlying factor. This activity includes both the current 2016 election as well as the agenda-melding of sport media consumption and political awareness.
A temporary explanation for the decline is the 2016 presidential race. The obvious issue at hand, the campaign season, is serving as an entertainment spectacle for the public and further comprising a greater majority of media coverage in comparison to even sports media in our society which has historically valued sports and athletes highly.
This decline is typical during a presidential campaign. The NFL reported that during the 2000 campaign, “all four NFL broadcast partners suffered [ratings declines] … Fox was down 4 percent, CBS was down 10 percent, ABC was down 7 percent and ESPN was down 11 percent.”
While it is possible the NFL has suffered a similar decline in the 2016 season, this year’s decline apparently is sharper than the one in 2000.
The three presidential debates received tens of millions of viewers each, monopolizing primetime audiences for Monday Night Football on ESPN and Sunday Night Football on NBC on these occasions.
Aside from the few occasions in which NFL games have overlapped with debates, it’s difficult to understand why the election would affect the size of the TV audience for NFL games.
We can look forward to whether or not the ratings increase in two weeks once the election has occurred
A Yahoo Sports/YouGov Poll proposed that only 17% of respondents believe the decline in NFL game viewerships to be an effect of the 2016 election, while 40% attributed the decline to Colin Kaepernick’s Protests.
Thus, in addition to the election, findings suggest the sharper decline may be an effect of Kaepernick’s lead in protesting the national anthem.
The protest is a demonstration against police brutality according to Kaepernick. Kaepernick said he would not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.”
Individuals who hold similar values and beliefs to Kaepernick and players who have followed in his protests may follow similar actions by boycotting the NFL altogether.
However, the 49ers quarterback is not the first to utilize sports media as a platform to voice their opinions regarding political issues.
The act traces back to the 1906 Olympic games when Peter O’Connor protested the raising of the British flag after finishing in second-place, wishing to represent Ireland.
Kaepernick isn’t the first to refrain from standing during the national anthem.
In 1996, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf faced suspension from the NBA due to his desire not to stand during the anthem based on his religion.
“I’ll continue to sit,” Kaepernick told ESPN. “I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed. To me, that is something that has to change.”
History continues and athletes as well as other famous opinion leaders utilize mediums to send a message with the goal to evoke emotions in viewers and ultimately create a societal change.
Is political activity to blame for the significant decline in ratings? It is likely as findings have suggested.
This further demonstrated the blurring of the lines drawn between entertainment and political spheres within our society.