Earlier this year, conservatives like John Hawkins with Townhall.com took to the Internet to call for a boycott of the NFL over its refusal to punish San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the National Anthem. But research shows that such boycott efforts are fading, and interest in the NFL has rebounded, and even increased in some cases.
The boycott movement got its start when Kaepernick refused to take a stand during the National Anthem. More accurately, he took a knee, a means of protesting the many police shootings of African-American males.
In addition to calling for a boycott, supporters have claimed their efforts succeeded. They pointed to Rasmussen Reports polls showing more Americans were choosing not to watch the National Football League games. They even cheered as reports surfaced that professional football viewership was falling.
Meanwhile, defenders of the NFL’s decision not to punish Kaepernick claimed that lower ratings were due to a lot of interest in baseball’s historic contest between two long-suffering franchises: the Chicago Cubs versus the Cleveland Indians, as well as greater interest in the heated battle between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and tycoon Donald Trump (Republican).
Earlier in the season, I examined the data for myself. I discovered that (1) National Football League (NFL) attendance was higher in 2016 than for 2015, during the same time frame. I also discovered that (2) the measures of TV viewership failed to account for those streaming games. Both could explain the decline in television attendance, in addition to the other factors.
But boycott supporters remained unconvinced, sending me emails convinced that the decline in TV ratings was proof of their power, as well as evidence that the NFL should agree with them in their hard-line approach to player protests or involvement in causes.
So I decided to take them up on their challenge, and look directly at television ratings from Sports Media Watch. And this is what I found.
From weeks one through seven, ratings were down. In the majority of cases, 2016 TV ratings were off from the previous year for the first few games. There were more games below 2015 numbers than above them. Of course, when games like the Atlanta-New Orleans contest went up against the Clinton-Trump debate, the ratings did suffer. And yes, one of the biggest declines occurred for the game between the 49ers and Los Angeles Rams.
That changed in Week 8. From Weeks 8 through 14, TV viewership of NFL games that are higher in 2016 than in 2015 exceed those down from last year. As the election and exciting World Series concluded, the numbers returned to the NFL, as predicted by its supporters. Even if it didn’t it showed the boycott, if it did exist, certainly lost steam. And Business Insider, with Yahoo, concurs in my analysis of the NFL ratings rebound.
The fact that Donald Trump was running ads to reach supporters during NFL games shows evidence that even this conservative candidate, who had called out Kaepernick, wasn’t buying the boycott.
Closer analysis indicate that the games (above or below 2015 numbers) are seem dependent upon the matchup, with games incorporating teams with losing records struggling, while those with playoff teams seem to be doing better. It may seem obvious, but I don’t remember those calling for a boycott limiting their protest to contests between poorly-performing teams. Did people skip the 49ers-Rams game because of Kaepernick, or because both teams were awful?
Moreover, Sports Media Watch data (from the networks) also incorporates estimates of those between 18 and 49 who are streaming the pro football games. I even tried streaming a game for myself, when my beloved Green Bay Packers weren’t on TV. The quality was a bit crude, and no substitute for the original on TV, but it’s effective when you need it. When taking this into effect, you can see that interest in the NFL is clearly pretty strong; some of those games that are “down” from 2015 probably aren’t being boycotted.
And we still haven’t included data from Weeks 15-17, when the playoff push reaches its zenith. Critics are sure to say that of course ratings are higher, as we are getting closer to the playoffs. But consider this: the hunt for the playoffs in 2016 is doing better than the playoff race in 2015 so far.
Professional football is an exciting sport. It appeals to conservatives, moderates and liberals. No protest attempt is really going to change that. The NFL boycott is not likely to be any more successful than attempts to target the musical “Hamilton” or snubbing Starbucks for their coffee cups.
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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