President Donald Trump repeatedly bashed the NFL this week for allowing players to take a knee during the National Anthem — an act of defiance he called disrespectful and worthy of suspension or termination from the league.
Trump on Sunday urged football fans to boycott games until all players stand while the National Anthem plays. He said the boycott would hurt the NFL, which he claimed was already suffering from poor viewership. “If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!” Trump tweeted.
“NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN,” Trump said in a follow-up tweet. “Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country. League should back U.S.”
How did the NFL fare after Trump's criticism? Here’s what we know so far about this week’s ratings:
As of Monday morning, it’s difficult to make a general statement about whether ratings took a hit this week as a direct result of Trump's remarks. Nielsen, which measures television viewership, said its data for Week 3 — the third week since football season officially kicked off — would not be available until Tuesday, when it usually releases audience sizes for the previous week.
However, at least two major television networks have released preliminary data from its Sunday night football games.
In a statement, CBS Sports said its overall NFL game coverage on Sunday increased by 4% from the same week in 2016. The ratings also went up from Week 2 this year, CBS said, but that could be because there were no national games played in the second week. Only a regional game, which typically draws in a smaller audience, aired during Week 2. The network also boasted that its pre-game program, The NFL Today, scored its best ratings this Sunday since 2010.
Fewer people tuned in to watch this week’s Sunday night football game on NBC than during the previous week and during the same week in 2016, according to Dan Masonson, a spokesman for NBC Sports Group. This Sunday night’s ratings were down about 7% from last week, when the Green Bay Packers played the Atlanta Falcons, Masonson said. The overall ratings from the most recent Sunday game was also down 10% from the comparable week last year. In the same week in 2016, the Chicago Bears faced off with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are considered one of the NFL’s biggest ratings draws, Masonson said. On NBC Sports on Sunday, the Oakland Raiders played the Washington Redskins. NBC’s data only came from the NBC Sunday Night Football game, while FOX and CBS had Sunday afternoon games as well as night games.
It’s unclear how Sunday games broadcast on Fox Sports fared. Sports Illustrated said ratings for Sunday’s NFL games on all three major networks were down in Week 3. But experts say the week’s overall numbers will end up increasing after Monday night’s Cowboys-Cardinals game, according to the magazine.