Calvin Freiburger writes that there’s an old saying: the beatings will continue until morale improves. Watching the ongoing fallout over the National Football League’s refusal to crack down on players who use the field as a platform to insult the United States, a variation of that phrase comes to mind.
The beatings will continue until patriotism improves.
In this case, “beatings” refers to the NFL’s ratings, and according to Sports Illustrated, things aren’t getting better for the beleaguered institution anytime soon:
You may have already seen the figures from Nielsen that show an overall decline of 7.5 percent in total viewership, comparing this year’s ratings to last year’s, which the NFL believed were down from 2015 because of the election.
What you didn’t see is consistency in how the numbers sunk across the board, something the owners showed concern over inside those meetings rooms. Consider these:
• There are six time-related viewing windows the NFL measures every week. Through six weeks, the NFL’s ratings were down in 20 of 36 windows.
• The NFL’s average household rating is currently 25.1, down from 26.9 over the same period last year, and the 28.1-28.7 range where it sat from 2013-15.
• Twenty-five of 31 teams (excluding the Chargers, because of the move) are drawing lower local numbers than they did in 2016. Nineteen have dropped 5 percent or more, including brand name teams like the Cowboys (7% drop), Patriots (8%) and Steelers (6%), and both New York clubs (the Giants are down 7%, the Jets are down 37%). Conversely, only three teams (Chiefs, Bucs, Lions) have improved by more than 5 percent.
• Digital streaming numbers are improving, but not at the rate that TV numbers are falling. ESPN counts the stream crowd as 3 percent of its viewership of Monday Night Football, which is the best of all the game-carrying networks.
Now, SI’s Albert Breer goes on to point out that ratings have also been declining for all kinds of television programming, which many are spinning to mean that the kneeling isn’t a big threat to the NFL. But while that’s true to some degree, let’s not kid ourselves: Americans have expressed their outrage in enough rage to make clear that it’s a huge part of it.
Sports bars don’t stop showing football — and get away with it — if the sentiment isn’t real.
Interestingly, Breer theorizes that when Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones declared that any player on his team who disrespected the flag wouldn’t play, Jones was also — perhaps primarily — warning the NFL about their business predicament:
That’s why when Jones spoke to his own players eight days ago, in the wake of what he said Oct. 8, his message was clear. We’re partners, and over 90 percent of our audience will never set foot in the stadiums you play, and we have to be cognizant of how easy it is for any of them to tune you out, and work to address your causes without burning the business.
Right now, the NFL are weighing two things: how much they can afford to anger their fans versus how much they can afford to anger their athletes. That’s a real pickle, but y’know what? It’s their own fault.
The NFL hasn’t valued character in in the players teams choose to sign in a long time, leading to grotesque realities such as the fact that a league once comprised of role models for America’s children is now so teeming with sleaze that one player is arrested every seven days on average.
It will have to be one or the other; in the meantime, Americans will — and should — continue to change the channel.