Last Thursday, the 2017 NFL season opener between the Chiefs and Patriots captured the attention of 13 percent fewer viewers than the opening game in 2016, a shift that is being blamed on players choosing to kneel during the playing of the national anthem. The game was the least viewed season opener in five years.
As reported by the Daily Wire, a 2016 poll, conducted by Yahoo Sports, shows that 44 percent of NFL fans would stop watching the games if additional players began kneeling during the national anthem, a move that some consider disrespectful.
To make matters more complex, some are citing requests for boycotts by liberal viewers as a reason for additional declines, most of which are focused on the alleged mistreatment of Colin Kaepernick, who is credited with starting the movement to not stand during the national anthem. Currently, Kaepernick is not signed to an NFL team.
Such actions during the preseason, such as when around a dozen Cleveland Browns players knelt during the national anthem during their game on August 21, have also drawn the ire of fans. After the Cleveland game, the Cleveland police union stated they would no longer be a part of the raising of the flag at home games based on the protests.
“The players not standing for the national anthem is offensive because of the sacrifices that people make that allow these guys to enjoy the success that they have,” said Steven Loomis, the president of the Cleveland Police Patrolman’s Association. “While they’re benefiting from protection of the flag, they are kneeling in disrespect of it.”
As reported by the New York Post, other factors may also be in play in regards to declines in viewership in recent years.
During the start to the 2016 NFL season, an early slip in ratings was at least partially attributed to the presidential campaign which garnered a significant amount of attention from the American public.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma coverage may have led some to tune in to other channels, as The Weather Channel captured an average of 2.23 million viewers while the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots were facing off. When compared to the same time period from a year ago, only 175,000 viewers were watching The Weather Channel opposite a game.