By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL has a ratings problem. The causes are many, and the leading cause is certainly up for debate. But that isn’t stopping the NFL from denying that the problem has some controversial undercurrents – or that the problem exists in the first place.

Sunday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants drew a 10.2 overnight rating as it mostly went up against the second presidential debate, according to Sports Media Watch. It’s a steep drop from 13.1 in Week 5 of the 2015 season and the lowest overnight rating since Week 8 of the 2013 season.

The presidential debate, and the 2016 election season, are no doubt cutting into TV ratings for everyone, not just the NFL. But for an 11 percent overall drop through the first four weeks of 2016 that is likely to deepen after Week 5? Seems more like a convenient excuse.

Yet, here’s the NFL sending an internal memo to all 32 teams reassuring them that the ratings are nothing to worry about. “There is no question that unprecedented interest in the Presidential election is impacting primetime ratings,” reads the letter from NFL reps Brian Rolapp and Howard Katz. Curiously, the letter brings up the effect that the backlash over the growing national anthem protests among players is having on the ratings, which they dismissed.

“Finally, it is worth noting that we see no evidence that concern over player protests during the National Anthem is having any material impact on ratings. In fact, our own data shows that perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016.”

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers walks on the field prior to their NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium on October 6, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers walks on the field prior to their NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium on October 6, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Surely the fans are going to trust “data” coming from within the NFL. They never lie about anything.

In all seriousness, the league itself may have no evidence, but I certainly do … from the hundreds of fans who literally told me they stopped watching the NFL because they were sick of the anthem protests and the injection of politics into NFL games in the first place. Is the anthem protest backlash the only cause of the ratings decline? No. It is most certainly a confluence of a lot of different issues. But to simply deny that there is a segment of the ever-crucial 18-49 demographic that saw the anthem protests as a “last straw” kind of moment that made them turn the channel on the NFL’s diminished on-field product is to demonstrate that you are out-of-touch with your own customers. A chunk of them, anyway.

The Sporting News reported last Thursday that the “Kaepernick Effect” is actually starting to hit the league in the wallets. The four major NFL broadcast networks – CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN – will pay about $5 billion per year for rights to broadcast games through 2021, yet sources told The Sporting News that those networks are actually starting to give some money back to advertisers with what are commonly known as “make-good” deals.

I feel like a broken record saying this, but a loss of ad revenue is one of the only ways to spring the NFL into action if you want to engender any kind of change. There’s no question that the games themselves are less watchable than in recent seasons with the lack of star power, but that’s no excuse for a Sunday Night Football game that featured two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning) and one of the league’s most dynamic wide receivers who is also a lightning rod for controversy (Odell Beckham Jr.).

The presence of the election will inevitably cut into the numbers for every primetime program, but most NFL viewers tune in to escape politics – are they changing the channel for … politics? And does this mean that the NFL is predicting a big ratings spike the Sunday after Election Day? If that doesn’t happen, then what will they say?

The NFL allowed players to exercise their freedom of speech rights by protesting the national anthem, fans are in turn exercising their same rights by changing the channel, and yet the league continues to deny that the boycotts over the anthem protests are having any effect on the ratings. Is it the only cause of the 11 percent (and growing) decline? No. But it’s one of the causes, a significant one, and one that could be permanent if the league continues to sweep the issue under the rug. This is not the first season that the NFL has had to deal with a watered-down product, alternatives to cable subscriptions, or even an election year.

The anthem protests are the only variable that did not exist before this season, yet the league is trying to tell you it’s a non-factor? Even if the backlash is not a big-enough factor for an 11-percent drop in the NFL ratings, it’s a factor. An escapist-entertainment league wouldn’t let its own fans escape on Sundays, and it’s costing them.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed 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 mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

Comments (329)
  1. Carolyn LeBrun says:

    If they think the kneeling and fist raising is not having a significant effect on the ratings decline, they are purposefully turning a blind eye to their customers’ opinions. It does not take a genius to figure out all one has to do to find out the cause is access internet article and discussion board comments, on the subject, to understand how people feel countrywide.
    Fans tune in for entertainment, not social lessons. For many that entertainment “was” a brief respite from life’s stresses and pressures. If they wanted to pursue social controversies they would tune into CNN, FOX, or MSNBC, but now all they have to do is turn on the latest NFL game.
    Either put an end to the unwanted, unpleasant situation, or continue to lose viewers and money.

  2. Russ says:

    Hey, this is for you NFL goofball management guys: I was a fan and now I’m not. The unpatriotic morons you call players is the reason. Get it? Lie all you want, but I know the reason your ratings are down and so does everyone else, including you. Man up and get rid of the communists in your midst or at least tell them to shut up. Maybe then, maybe, people will come back to watch.

  3. The NFL is liberalism. Liberalism is based on lies and a purposeful decision to not confront detrimental issues that a entity faces. ESPN, Obama and the NFL are all in cahoots. Obama met with these entities and made sure they knew that they would sell his dream. They have sold their souls. Reap the whirlwind NFL and ESPN. I’m done. We are all done.

  4. Steve K says:

    I’ll never forget listening to ESPN radio the morning after the Colts beat the Bears in the first Super Bowl to feature two Black head coaches. One of the ESPN jocks joked that “people from the South were rooting for the Colts because they wanted the Black coach with the lighter skin to win” HAR HAR HAR.

    Prior to that, I remember reading an article in ESPN magazine about LeBron James. They asked him who he’d like to dunk on more than anyone else. He said “I’d like to dunk on George W. Bush, and have the backboard glass shatter all over him”……..Bush was President at the time.

    Here’s the deal……..ESPN is run by a bunch of White, suburban jock wannabees, who may have played some high school or community college ball, who think the key to being part of the sports world is to kiss up to Black athletes.

    When Muhammad Ali died, all the sports jocks were asking every single Black athlete “tell me in your own words, what did Ali mean to you?” The only reason Ali is glorified so much is because the hippies loved him for opposing the Vietnam war, burning his draft card, and aligning himself with the radical Black Power movement. If Ali was a patriot like George Forman, he’d be treated as just another loudmouth boxer.

  5. Brien says:

    As someone who previously served in the military I don’t agree with disrespecting the flag but that doesn’t keep me from watching games. What does keep me from watching games is the limited games available to watch. Now that the NFL has decided to air fewer games on the big broadcast networks in favor of trying to get people to subscribe to Sunday Ticket their isn’t much of a selection of games to watch. For instance, Sunday morning I had only the choice of watching the Jets & Steelers and just wasn’t interested in that so I didn’t watch any. I don’t have DirecTV which for me means getting Sunday Ticket as a streaming service which I found to be very lacking. Packet drops, slow speeds (I have 100mb service so it is their servers), degraded picture quality due to this, no video for extended periods just all added up to it not being worth the cost. So instead I catch typically one or two games a week now whereas before I would have watched all day Sunday.

  6. The NFL knows exactly what is going on. However, because it is now a LIEberal entity, it refuses to fix the issue. Secondly, if players care so much about justice and peace. Then why not protest the decline of the black family unit, black on black crime (93%), etc..What is pathetic is not one broadcaster has had the balls to call Kaepernick out on ALL the issues. There is much more to it than “racial injustice.” He is lying. The actions (or lack thereof) of the black community have led to their “issue.” There are constant excuses being made for the actions of blacks.

  7. Carolyn LeBrun says:

    I hope the 49ers decide to start Kaepernick, this Sunday, against the Bills, so we can see how much the ratings drop again. They just might be able to count the viewers on their collective fingers and toes.

  8. Newflash, the players and owner do not care about winning as much as you think they do!!! It’s all an act!

  9. Abel Garcia says:

    Godell was so sure the rating drop was because of Tom Brady’s suspension. Since he woesn’t want to blame Kaepernick, may I suggest it is Bush’s fault!

  10. John Xonk says:

    NFL is now complete filth! I will never watch it again!

  11. richard wiggler says:

    Lots of reasons. Why watch a 3-hour info-mercial for 15 total minutes of actual game play? I can watch a 10 minute segment on any news channel or sports show and see the highlights on Monday. I can enjoy fantasy football without watching a single game. I actually get to be a good father and husband and do real stuff together on Sundays rather than watch over-paid celebrities. I am actively trying to convince my family to cut cable altogether to stop funding all the over-paid celebrities across all programming options from shoving their politics down my throat. Same with over-priced theaters. When they’re all making a realistic salary, or when they decapitate all the Kardashians on camera, then I’ll watch some televised media again.

    FREE KANYE!

  12. If Goodell doesn’t fix this problem AND SOON, the NFL owners will “retire” him.

    Over/under: 12 months.

  13. Dennis Bragg says:

    I am boiling mad with the NFL over the disrespect shown our nation, flag, police officers and military service members. The “pig” socks worn by Colin Kaepernick during his team’s NFL practice is a good example of why I have completely dropped the NFL until the unpatriotic idiots running the NFL figure out that fans can vote with our feet. I refuse to read any article on the NFL and hope it affects their advertising revenue. I always, for some reason, thought that the NFL represented what is best and patriotic about being an american. It appears I was very wrong and I am correcting the situation now….

  14. Tom Pazell says:

    As a long time fan who in the past few years has become increasingly bored with he professional version of the game, the recent protests were the final straw. I’m done with the NFL!

  15. Thomas Brown says:

    For me it’s all about children acting out on the sideline. I played D1 college ball in the 60’s and have watched the NFL for decades, This year I have not watched a single game, not even my hometown Dallas Cowboys.

    Goodell is a below par commissioner making big deals of nothing and no deal about something as important as our National Anthem.

    I’m loving NCAA games each week. So long NFL for now

  16. Harold Janson says:

    I refuse to watch Thugball, if it wasn’t for this “game”, they would all be in jail on assault and rape charges. They have even been out in the open about keeping “fall guys” around them to take their charges. This is no longer our sport, it is no longer an American sports league, it needs to just end. There is no point in watching or supporting it in anyways.

  17. For me it is a ‘last straw moment’ and until the league bans 1st amendment abuse I will never watch again.

  18. Not a fan of the NFL, don’t watch the games. We have been at war for the past 10 plus years and most people know someone who is serving or who has served in the military. If I was a fan and players didn’t stand up for the National Anthem I would probably find something else to watch on TV. Pretty dumb for the billionaire owners to ignore the concerns of their viewers over the the political views of their employees..

  19. I don’t think the national anthem protests have anything to do with it. Their problem is excessive game stoppages, endless commercials, and the fact that a 40 yard pass interference penalty is usually the most exciting play in a game.

  20. Not a Fan Anymore says:

    Kaepernick is just one more reason not to watch the NFL. Quit, never going back!
    The NFL is morally bankrupt, I hope they go financially Bankrupt.

  21. These leftist retards will do anything to not admit the obvious – idiot players protesting a lie have repulsed everyday, intelligent and patriotic Americans. FU NFL, I hope you bleed $$$.

  22. Mike says:

    I quit watching also and had been watching since there was an NFL and AFL. Dont need NFL on sundays as there are so many college games replayed from Sat that are better anyway. These pukes kneeling to the anthem make me sick.

  23. Diane says:

    Condi Rice for NFL Commissioner! She’ll know what to do.

  24. TBlakely says:

    “Hey Kappernick, the 70s called and want their afro back!”

    “A measure of a man’s ‘blackness’ is the size of their afro.”

  25. dimofepuji says:

    Emily . true that Don `s comment is something, last week I got a gorgeous Dodge after earning $6276 this – four weeks past and-over, ten thousand this past munth . this is actually the coolest job Ive ever done . I started this 7-months ago and practically straight away got minimum $86, p/h . Get the facts………..>>>>>>>>>>>>> http://www.buzz.jobs14.com

  26. chuckiechan says:

    I feel estranged from football. They are a bunch of millionaire pampered princes, and now they are going to rub my nose in the dirt because “I’m not socially aware”. I just don’t need it from them.

    Watching football is not the do-all, end-all in my life. It’s quickly losing it’s “whatever” that makes it fun. It’s not fun now. It’s politics.

    And regarding Kapernick, he was a ghetto rat who was adopted by a white family who raised him as their own, and facilitated him becoming a NFL quarter back. If there is an award for the “Most Ungrateful Adopted Child, EVER!” it would be him!

  27. Steve M says:

    When a player disrespects the Anthem and the Flag, they might as well be looking at the camera, flipping me off and saying F-U, and F everything you believe in. They protest in this manner with the sole intent of offending me, they have succeeded, so I have stopped watching. All the other reasons the NFL has listed for the ratings decline are valid, but I promise, the reason I haven’t watched a minute of Football this season is the NFL siding with BLM over the Cops. In case you have forgotten, allow me to remind you, the NFL wouldn’t allow the Cowboys to put s star on their helmet to honor the 5 murdered Dallas police officers, because that would have been to controversial. The NFL has had thug players, bad calls, injuries, and star players retire, forever, the only new wrinkle is starting each game by tell me to F-U and that I should like it.

  28. chaulk up another ‘anthem protest last straw’ member here, forbidding Dallas and 9/11 supporters from exhibiting freedoms of expression made it league wide instead of just teams with players actively ‘protesting’.

  29. C. Casey says:

    I am so thrilled reading these comments. The NFL is delusional if it fails to see that the viewership is dropping due to the national anthem protests. Hey NFL executives and owners: I will immediately turn off any game in which a single NFL player disrespects the flag or anthem. What a bunch of overpaid, uninformed, prejudiced (that’s right, it goes both ways, and the rest of us are getting sick of constantly apologizing for existing) jerks. The worst of it is that we can’t just turn off the television, because these protests have poisoned the air all the way down to high school and junior high school games, as if an eleven-year-old has the knowledge and awareness to know the significance of what this copycat behavior really means. Shame on the NFL and its players.

  30. Mo says:

    “The anthem protests are the only variable that did not exist before this season, yet the league is trying to tell you it’s a non-factor?” But earlier in the article you mentioned the presidential debates? I think your politics are showing. Not that I care. I’m from STL

  31. Bmar says:

    So now there is a political agenda in sports, I guess like the earlier Olympics. I have written to the 49’s, and hope they lose every game. They have a good start at 1-4

  32. Ashley West says:

    Reasons for NFL ratings drop; Colin Kaepernick and his racist buddies, the commissioner praising Kaepernick while not allowing teams to honor police officers, players cannot wear cleats honoring 9/11 victims, stupid penalties for “cultural insensitivity,” Beyoncé’s anti USA/police message at super bowl; supporting black lives matter terrorists, anti-second amendment speeches, etc., etc.

  33. Don says:

    With American troops dying in the middle east being covered with the American flag and these over paid fools protesting the National and the flag being presented, there is no way an NFL game will ever be on my TV again.

  34. Rocky Waters says:

    Not being a sports fan, I don’t understand why any White man would watch pro football. Most of the players are black, and most of the black players hate Whites. The team certainly doesn’t represent the fans. First, the players are from all over the USA, and even the world. How does a guy from Sudan playing on the team represent the White fans? I think the Black Lives Matter thugs, combined with the Black players protesting the National Anthem, is beginning to make White fans racially aware.

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