By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- After the NFL's TV ratings declined for the third straight week in Week 3, I gave my take on what could be causing the precipitous drop that has now carried over into Week 4. I believe that NFL games are simply becoming less watchable due to eroding quality of games, and I still believe that the product on the field is playing some role in fewer Americans tuning into football on Sundays - and Mondays and Thursdays, for that matter.
However, one factor that appears to be making a large dent in the ratings and continuing to grow is the backlash resulting from the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick sitting or kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality against African-Americans. A percentage of fans are now boycotting the NFL in reaction to Kaepernick's protests and/or the lack of discipline from the league offices resulting from them. It's likely that a sizable chunk of the rating decline is due to fans swiftly and decisively responding to Kaepernick's growing protests by turning the games off entirely.
SportsBusiness Daily reported on Tuesday that Monday Night Football between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings drew a 9.1 overnight rating, down eight percent from Lions-Seahawks in Week 4 of the 2015 season. The rating for Sunday Night Football between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, a 43-14 blowout win by Pittsburgh, dropped by 26 percent from Saints-Cowboys in Week 4 last season, while the early-morning London game between the Colts and Jaguars dropped by 24 percent from the same time slot a year ago.
FOX's early-afternoon slate of games dropped by 10 percent year-over-year while the late-afternoon games dropped by 20 percent. The 1 p.m. regional games were the only time slot that saw a slight ratings uptick, growing by 2 percent over last season.
In response to my thoughts on the NFL's weaker on-field product leading to a three-week decline in viewership, I received nearly a hundred emails from American viewers, some of which have previously served in the military. Most of them told me in no uncertain terms that they had stopped watching the NFL due to the controversy surrounding Kaepernick and other players across the NFL protesting the national anthem by sitting, kneeling, or demonstrating in other ways. Many of these viewers have similarly exercised their rights as Americans by taking their viewership elsewhere or simply turning off the TV.
Here is a handful of those emails sent to me that these viewers have permitted me to post, with only their first names out of respect for their privacy.
I can tell you for certain that I'm not watching because of Colin Kaepernick and his idiot protest that is now spreading to high school games. You can try to dream up other reasons, but you're just fooling yourself.
I've been on full boycott of NFL since day one. I will not support those who support the exiled in Cuba cop killer or any anti-American, pro-cop-murder, organization. I may never return to NFL consumption. Helping to save our collapsing nation from corruption is my hobby now. Plus there are other sports, including participation sports such as many self-defense sports.
I look forward to seeing reporting on the NFL boycott once it gains sufficient traction.
I personally stopped watching football because of disrespect to our country and flag. If the Cowboys First Amendment rights don't allow them to wear a patch honoring slain law enforcement then the NFL has set the precedent that they have total control over self-expression and must apply it equally. It makes me sick and I have the right not to watch.
I'm probably not the only one.
I loved football, since this taking the knee business started I refused to watch. I'm a Veteran and served during Vietnam, I was disrespected plenty when I came home, I thought we moved past that, but it would seem we haven't, I don't want to watch a game where I'm being slapped in the face by the people who need me to watch their game.
I'm proud of my Service to my Country and I don't need football players making millions who never sacrificed anything for their country preach to me on national TV about how bad our country is. The commissioner fines a guy for twerking in the end zone and then thinks it is okay to stomp our Flag and national anthem, this league needs to be taken down. I've emailed the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Elk's, The VFW, American Legion and all my friends and asked them to email everyone they know to stop watching the NFL games. Kaepernick says America was never great, he is a fool! Just a thought.
I've been an avid fan for over six decades. Also a Vietnam and Gulf War vet, with four family members at Arlington. I have not watched a single game this season because the NFL allowed Kaep's actions to get out of hand. As a private employer, when in uniform, players have NO Constitutional right to use the NFL platform to espouse political views. The league's so-called Military Appreciation is a hollow joke. League can't possibly be gaining fans by their inaction, I know they are losing many, including me.
I tried watching several games, it appears they are skipping by the Anthem so they don't have to show the disrespect. Sorry, the Anthem is part of the game experience for me. League is running away instead of addressing the issue. As soon as I see no Anthem, I turn off the TV. I understand there have been some positive attempts by some players to show Military support, but if they skip by the Anthem I never get to see that either.
With every weekend, it gets easier to no longer watch...
My whole family has not watched a game other than the Patriots since the moron in SFO disrespected the entire country. It was the last straw. People are sick of the NFL when they take political stands. Dallas couldn't wear a sticker on their helmet to honor the fallen police but that moron backup can take a knee during the national anthem?
Many other emails held similar beliefs to the above responses. I also received several emails saying they have stopped watching NFL games due to declining quality of the product on the field, mostly citing an overabundance of commercials and penalty flags, but the overwhelming majority of responses confirmed that they are boycotting the NFL due to players' decisions to protest the national anthem.
While it's unclear exactly how big of an impact the #BoycottNFL movement is having on the ratings, it's becoming readily apparent that there is a large segment of Americans who have turned away from football for reasons other than the games themselves. They are upset about the injection of political and social issues into what ought to be a form of escapist entertainment, disagree with the beliefs of players who are seen as privileged and uneducated about the very issues they are protesting, do not support the lack of sanctions from the league for the protests as opposed to other actions, or some combination of these factors.
Data began to emerge in September foreshadowing the growing boycotts to come. On Sept. 16, Reuters released a poll of 363 viewers in which 63 percent disagreed with Kaepernick's protests. A Sept. 19 survey by Yahoo! concluded that 44 percent of viewers would "likely stop watching NFL games" if the anthem protests continued beyond that date. In a Sept. 22 poll of 875 viewers by the Stillman School of Business at Seton Hall University, 47 percent said they supported Kaepernick's right to protest but believed he was wrong for not standing for the anthem. In the same poll, 20 percent said they did not support Kaepernick's right to protest and believed he should be ordered to stand for the anthem.
On Tuesday, Rasmussen Reports released the results of a telephone/online poll in which 32 percent of American adults said they are "less likely to watch an NFL game because of the growing number of Black Lives Matter protests by players on the field." Only 13 percent of respondents to the same poll said they were more likely to watch, while 52 percent said the protests "have no impact on their viewing decisions."
Even if more than half of NFL viewers still aren't making decisions based on the anthem protests, if the actual number boycotting the league is even close to a third of NFL fans then the anthem protests, and subsequent boycotts, would undoubtedly be having a massive effect on the league's sharply declining viewership. The weakening product on the field would only make their decision easier.
It's time to take the growing boycott of the NFL seriously. Yes, there are other factors at play, like the aforementioned decline in quality of the games themselves and the growing number of alternatives to cable TV that have led to what's widely known as "cord-cutting." SportsBusiness Daily even cited the 2016 presidential election as a reason. But based on the number of fans strongly expressing their views against the anthem protests and fresh data surfacing to support their cause, the NFL boycott is real and should not be ignored.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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