The chairman of Advertising Sales & Client Partnerships at NBCUniversal, Linda Yaccarino, recently spoke about the controversy facing the NFL and the impact to advertisers.
Advertisers are taking notice of falling ratings and the correlating damage to their brands. At a fireside chat in New York moderated by Adweek, Yaccarino stated that numerous advertisers have threatened to stop advertising during NFL games if the league allows the continued politicization of its coverage.
Yaccarino explained that no advertisers had yet pulled out, but that could change. “Because think about it: they have half the country that is cheering about that, and they have half the country that is emailing them, saying, don’t do that. So that’s a real thing,” she said.
However, Yaccarino admitted that prior to Colin Kaepernick spurring the national anthem protests last year, regular season NFL games did not include the national anthem in their broadcasts. The anthem was reserved for more significant games, such as the Super Bowl.
“The story has morphed dramatically, from social injustice to patriotism,” Yaccarino said. “While I don’t think there’s any way you could ever really prove it, I do think it has impacted the ratings.”
It seems beyond coincidental that as the national anthem protests intensified and Americans grew increasingly tired of the politics interjected in the games, NFL television ratings fell, and stadiums have been largely empty.
As of October, NFL ratings had declined by the double digits. Individual games were receiving 13-16 percent fewer viewers. Now that the season is half-way through, ratings are down five percent compared to the 2016 season, and a staggering 19 percent from the 2015 season.
This week, Deadline’s Dominic Patten noted that Sunday Night Football ratings dropped seven percent in the adults aged 18-49 demographic.
Despite these declines in television ratings, September ad spending on NFL games increased two percent – an increase of $9 million, but this is likely the result of a seven percent increase in NFL ad costs. CBS chief Les Moonves stated in an earnings call that he was confident for continued ad growth in the NFL because advertisers had not pulled out.
A recent game between the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins received 18 percent fewer viewers than their matchup last year.
The reason for the decline in television ratings has been debated. ESPN’s Darren Rovell claimed the decline “is in line with the rest of television.” Similarly, Century Fox CEO James Murdoch blamed the declines on an “overproliferation” of games as the league extended Thursday night televised games. He rebuked the claim that ratings were negatively impacted by politics or national anthem protests.
However, a PBS poll indicated that Americans were divided on their perception of the national anthem protests. Of those surveyed, 48 percent said the protests were respectful, while 46 percent said the protests were disrespectful.
A Rasmussen poll found that 34 percent of respondents were less likely to watch NFL games due to the protests. Of the respondents that were admitted followers of the NFL, 30 percent said the protests resulted in them drifting from the sport.
While NFL and television network executives alike continue to express a lack of concern over the politicization of football games and the impact it may have, they could find themselves facing even worse ratings in the future. It’s demonstrably clear that viewers do care about the protests, and they’re displaying that by turning away from the league.