As a Jets fan, I’m confident this decline is due mainly to the nauseating spectacle of watching Brady and the Patriots continue to pile up rings.
It wasn’t so long ago that pro football was indisputably America’s game. No more, although it’ll be awhile before NFL ratings dwindle to MLB levels. Case in point: Last night’s Thursday Night Football game between the Panthers and Eagles drew higher ratings than two of the seven games of last year’s curse-buster World Series between the Cubs and Indians and higher ratings than all but two games of the previous *four* World Series before that.
Still, unpopular political protests plus public repulsion at the toll from CTE plus a general perception that play isn’t as entertaining as it used to be makes for a bad brew. And so:
How much of the NFL’s decline is due to Trump-fueled right-wing unhappiness about the anthem protests and how much to other factors? There’s no way to tell over a five-year time horizon but I’d point you again to this mind-boggling FiveThirtyEight graph from a few days ago if you doubt that there’s a “Trump effect” on fans’ perceptions:
Still don’t believe there’s a Trump effect? In that case, dig into Gallup’s data and you’ll find that the sharpest downturn in interest in the NFL coincidentally comes among Republicans and key Republican demographics. Five years ago 70 percent of Republicans called themselves pro football fans. Now 55 percent do. Among Democrats, by comparison, the shift has been just three points, from 69 to 66 percent. Some of the biggest drops in popularity among subgroups also come in GOP-friendly contingents like men, whites, and older people. Although there’s an interesting blip: The largest decline in NFL fandom happens to come from two groups *not* traditionally associated with GOP support, college grads and postgrads. Hillary won college grads last year by five points and postgrads by 21, yet support for the NFL is down 19 and 16 points among those two groups, respectively, since 2012. What explains that? Clearly Trump and the protests are having some corrosive effect on football’s popularity but maybe not the only effect.
Incidentally, the commissioner’s office clarified that it will not be issuing a “stand or else” anthem policy for NFL players, merely offering them a proposal that might encourage them to stand in exchange for league support for activism elsewhere. It’ll be amusing when the players accept the offer, begin standing en masse for the anthem, and … the league’s numbers don’t improve at all. Well, maybe a little: Overall, the number of viewers this season is down eight percent since last year. Nowhere to go but up. I think?