The NFL and certain sports networks would like you to believe that the 2016 election was the reason for the serious downtick in viewer participation, yet post-election data doesn’t really support this premise.
In fairness to the NFL, a bounce in ratings occurred after the election ended in early November. In fact, ratings of the “average game,” as reported by Awful Announcing, increased by 14%. This represents the biggest post-election jump since 2007 when ratings showed a 9% increase after the election.
Those numbers look quite impressive. However, when you compare viewership numbers after this year’s election against last year’s 2015 NFL season numbers during the same period of time, per game viewership declined by approximately 4 percent from 19.24 million viewers in 2015 to this year’s 18.43 million. Quick arithmetic calculates the NFL lost over 800,000 viewers since last year during the same period.
Many have speculated that Colin Kaepernick and others who kneeled during the national anthem may have contributed to the fans deciding to clean the garage or take the kids to the park rather than tune in to the game. According to a Yahoo/YouGov poll, 29 percent of NFL fans turned their TVs off or watched something else during game time. Moreover, four out of ten of those tuning out blame Kaepernick’s protests as the reason.
In the final analysis, the elections had their effect on viewership, but not the impact the NFL would like to believe.