It Turns Out Social Justice Messaging Did Not Play a Huge Role in Any Sports Ratings Drop

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For the first and probably the last time, The Masters was played on a brisk fall weekend in November. Dustin Johnson ran away with the green jacket at the end and was very emotional about it after the fact. It was an entertaining tournament, but not quite as exciting as the 2019 iteration where Tiger Woods capped off quite the comeback story.

That's not Johnson's fault, really. People just love Woods. But it probably played a factor in the ratings battle, which The Masters lost by quite a bit this year. Ratings for the 2020 Masters dropped by over 50 percent compared to last year.

This continues a trend across all sports: ratings are dropping in concert this year. As noted in the tweet, The Masters are far from the first big-time event that has seen a drop. The NBA Finals was the lowest-rated series on record, and the deciding Game 6 drew less than a third of the amount of viewers who watched the last game of the 2019 Finals. The 2020 World Series dropped 36 percent in viewership compared to 2019 and as a whole was rated substantially lower than the 2012 series, which was previously the lowest-rated World Series on record. The list goes on. The main event in nearly every sport imaginable was viewed less than any previous iteration ever.

There are a variety of valid and justifiable reasons for this. But one of the more popular theories floating around is that ratings dropped because of social justice initiatives and an inability to "keep politics out of sports." The NBA was the main target there, as they are the most active league in the country when it comes to social-justice messaging. If the NBA was the only league to suffer such a drastic drop in ratings, the social activism at the front and center of all broadcasts could be entertained as a reason why.

But they aren't. It doesn't matter if it's the NBA, NHL, PGA, whatever other acronym you want to name, every sport has seen a drop in ratings and viewership. They all participated in some manner of social activism over the last few months, but none as strongly as the NBA. Can we blame the lowest Masters ratings ever on their social justice messaging, which was few and far between? There wasn't even a national anthem to kneel or stand during.

It was always a ridiculous hill to die on, but it's even more absurd now. The presence of social justice messaging on a broadcast probably does, in fact, turn some viewers off. But not millions upon millions of them. Instead, the drop in ratings is merely a result of a truly bizarre year thanks to the global pandemic, the craziest election in nearly two decades, and the sports calendar getting stacked up in the fall.

The last point, I feel, is the most important. Every sport in America is going to lose a ratings battle against the NFL. Maybe The Masters would have posted similar numbers if it happened in April like normal. Maybe not. But the one thing you could count on is that football would win over golf ten times out of ten when it comes to viewership. Same thing with hockey and basketball. The World Series is accustomed to having to battle the NFL for viewers this time of year, but coupled with an election cycle it was always doomed in that regard. It wasn't the fact that some players chose to kneel during the anthem.

We can pick whatever narrative we want to argue why sports ratings have dropped in the terrible, awful, no-good year of 2020. But the presence of social justice messaging is no longer a viable reason to point to. End of story.