Alternate Title on Poll About Anthem Protests: Only 3% Watched Fewer NFL Games For That Reason

By Jason Lisk

Darren Rovell has a story on the results of a J.D. Power poll on NFL viewers from last season. The headline of that story is “Anthem protests led poll of reasons viewers tuned out.”

According to the poll, 26% of respondents who said they watched fewer games said it was because of the National Anthem protests led by Colin Kaepernick. The next highest, coincidentally, was 24% of respondents attributing a viewership drop to the league image issues with domestic violence, which tied respondents who said they watched less because of game delays.

Meanwhile, only 16 percent said it was because of Presidential election coverage.

There are two primary questions when it comes to this poll. First, is whether people are truthful assessors of their behavior, and whether that matches up with the evidence and data. Second, is what those numbers actually mean.

Let’s start with the second.

Here’s the key caveat:

"J.D. Power noted that only 12 percent of the fans it surveyed said they watched fewer NFL games last season, with 27 percent of people saying they watched more and 62 percent saying they watched just as much as they had the season before."

Interestingly, within the respondents to this survey more of them said they watched more NFL games, compared to those that said they watched fewer.

In this poll, though, only those that responded that they watched fewer games were then sub-divided in to the reasons why. That comprised 12% of the “more than 9,200 people,” and then those identifying national anthem protests were a subgroup of that.

So here’s a breakdown (let’s just go with approximates for 9,200 respondents for now, because if it was close to 9,300 it would have said so).

  • Approximately 287 respondents (3.1%) said they watched fewer games because of national anthem protests;
  • Approximately 265 respondents (2.9%) said they watched fewer games because of off-field issues and game delays;
  • Approximately 221 respondents (2.4%) said they watched fewer games because of excessive commercials and advertising;
  • Approximately 177 respondents (1.9%) said they watched fewer games because of Presidential election coverage;
  • Approximately 55 respondents (0.6%) said they watched fewer games because of getting rid of cable.

Thus, it is more accurate to say that 3%–a small subset of respondents–said they watched fewer games because of anthem protests.

Then there’s the question of whether that matches the data. Compare that to these findings by Fox Sports executive Michael Mulvihill, relayed to the Sports Business Daily in February:

"From the first week of the season, the most essential fact in understanding NFL viewing was that more people watched NFL games this season than in 2015. This was true early in the season, became even more true later in the year, and stayed true through the Super Bowl. Nearly 203 million people watched the 2016 NFL regular season across all networks, a gain of roughly 5 million over the 2015 season. That simple fact implies that ratings increased this season, but because viewership statistics are a function of both the number of people watching and the amount of time they spend viewing, the math becomes more complicated. In this case, the number of people watching the NFL increased, but the average amount of time spent watching the league declined. The result was a decrease in average minute audience for every NFL rights holder. That distinction was lost on many observers. It is absolutely critical to understanding what happened during the season. The ratings declines that were the subject of so much speculation were never about fans abandoning the NFL. Rather, the declines were about a growing pool of fans spending less time with the games each week."

That article attributes the primary reason for the drop in ratings to the Presidential election coverage. In Rovell’s article, it also notes that ratings were down 14% prior to election day, and down only 1% after that point in the season. Kaepernick became the starter in the second half of the season and was playing more after the election. If that was the primary driver, you would not have seen a big bounce back immediately upon conclusion of the election.