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TV Execs Cite Lack of Anthem Protests Among Reasons for Improved NFL Ratings

NFL Ratings
AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

Television executives are rejoicing at the rebound they’ve seen in NFL ratings through the first month of the season. Interestingly, among other things, they note the decline of the NFL anthem protests as a factor.

John Ourand and Austin Karp of the SportsBusiness Journal, chronicled the NFL’s porous start to the preseason and difficult opening night, along with the league’s encouraging start to the regular season. According to SportsBusiness Journal, “A pass-happy league with wide-open offenses and gunslinging young quarterbacks, combined with far fewer player protests, has helped to stabilize viewership, according to several top television executives.”

The pair spoke with television executives from CBS, ESPN, Fox, and NBC, to better understand the reasons for the league’s ratings recovery.

According to NBC’s Chairman of Broadcasting and Sports, Mark Lazarus, the trend has been positive.

“We thought we’d be a little bit behind where we are now at this point, so we’re pleasantly surprised,” Lazarus said. “But we’re not shocked. It’s the strongest product in the land. … We’re feeling even more bullish on where we would be than what our real number is because of that little handicap and how much that affects our average rating with this few games in the bank.”

CBS has been among the stronger performers, when it comes to the positive ratings news. Specifically, the network has delivered strong results from its afternoon games.

“It’s still early in the season, so nobody should jump to conclusions,” CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus told SBJ. “But the trend is positive.”

According to SBJ:

TV executives point to reasons why NFL ratings have rebounded this season, with each network citing young quarterbacks, such as the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and the Browns’ Baker Mayfield.

‘Every leaguewide statistic related to the passing game is tracking at a record high,’ said Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports executive vice president of research, league operations and strategy. ‘If we’re in this year of the quarterback, it makes for a really compelling cast of characters at what’s probably the most significant position in sports. The efficiency of the passing game, the characters that you have at that position, that’s helping keep people tuned in a little longer.’

In addition to the explosion of offense and the youth movement at the quarterback position, the network executives also point out the decline of the anthem protest movement as a contributing factor in helping the ratings.

“It’s largely a resolved issue,” Mulvihill said of the anthem protests. “That’s one of the reasons we are seeing stabilization in the numbers. There’s not a lot of new information there for fans to digest. Everyone has reached their own conclusion on it.”

“One of the things that our research has showed is that when people are watching football games, in a perfect world they view it as an escape,” McManus said. “They want to get away from the politics and the other storylines that are dominating the media landscape.”

While the executives don’t attribute the entire reason for the ratings improvement to the relative absence of protests, the fact that they mention it at all is an important development. For much of the last two years, much of the mainstream sports media refused to accept that the protests had any impact on the NFL’s ratings.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter @themightygwinn

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