Puerto Rico is in ruins, North Korea is threatening to drop hydrogen bombs, Obamacare’s repeal is slipping back into the grave from which it rose, and tax reform is languishing in Congress. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has tweeted 25 times since Saturday about NFL ratings and the right of athletes to kneel during the national anthem.
The president, whose fixation with attendance has been obvious from literally the second that he became president, has repeatedly said the NFL’s ratings were “WAY DOWN” due to protests. He even took personal credit for the league’s declining viewership.
Is the president right? Yes and no. Yes, in that there is little question that football viewership, the jewel of the cable bundle, is in decline; and this, in itself, is an important media story. But also no, since it’s not clear that either the president or the protests are the primary culprit.
First, the ratings. It’s important to beware headlines about bad ratings for one particular game, or one specific week. Football isn’t like a television show that airs with the same characters on a weekly basis. Instead, there are 32 teams playing a 17-week round-robin, with four main television windows for NFL action: early Sunday games (airing at 1 p.m. Eastern Time), later Sunday games (airing around 4 p.m. Eastern), Sunday Night Football on NBC, and Monday Night Football on ESPN. For any given week, ratings could easily be down in one window and up for another, depending on the star power of the players, the quality of the game, and the popularity of competing shows.