No, fools, NFL viewership is NOT down because of “taking a knee”

Here’s the latest whopper from the wierd world inhabited by Tea Partiers and Republicans:  NFL TV viewership is down because of NFL players “taking a knee” during the playing of the National Anthem.  In addition to that bullshit, some Tea Party outlets are claiming the NFL is in such deep trouble, they cancelled the Sunday night game, December 31.

As with damn near everything else the Tea Party swears to, these claims are nonsense.

Let’s deal with the Sunday night claim first.

TeaPublicans claim  that Sunday night football ratings were so bad — manly as a result of the “taking a knee” action — the NFL cancelled a previously-scheduled Sunday night game for Sunday night, December 31.

Never happened.  There was no game scheduled for Sunday night, December 31, because the NFL did not want to compee with New Year’s Eve television.  It’s a simple matter to check out this fact — just Google “NFL 2017 schedule” and you’ll find there never was a game scheduled for that night.


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Now for the lie that “taking a knee” has cost the NFL huge audience share.

Yes, it’s true that NFL viewership is falling.  What was a trickle in the 2015 and 2016 seasons has turned into a flood in the 2017 season.

What’s not disputed is that NFL ratings were down about 10% for the first three weeks of the season, which started Sept. 7, with about 15.8 million viewers (watching live or on DVR same-day), compared to 17.6 million during the first three weeks of 2016, according to Nielsen data. That follows a trend last year of overall viewership during the 2016 regular season, when ratings fell 8%.

During this past week of games after Trump’s Friday night remarks, NFL viewership fell 4% from the prior week (not counting ESPN’s Monday Night Football broadcast), Nielsen data shows. The NFL on Tuesday said that counting Monday Night Football, ratings in this most recent week climbed 3% from a year ago, when a presidential election debate conflicted with a game.

President Trump’s comments that owners should fire or suspend players who protest, followed by tweets that called on fans to act, has sparked much broader protests. Many more NFL players kneeled as the national anthem was played at Sunday games.

One problem with making a direct, causal link between NFL ratings and protests: The firestorm of controversy in the past few days doesn’t explain the down drift of ratings during the season’s first two weeks, when any kneeling protest drew little attention, said Bruce Leichtman, president and principal analyst for Leichtman Research Group, a research firm that tracks media and entertainment.

A second data point that’s clear: TV watching of all stripes, not just sports, is losing its hold over the American viewer.

Fewer U.S. homes, 79%, are getting pay-TV service, down from 84% in 2014, Leichtman says. And that fragmentation of the viewing public as more customers cut the pay-TV cord impacts viewership, too. NFL ratings do not include most streaming options.

“Over the past 20 years, there’s been a proliferation in channels, and now you have even more choices … (with) Netflix, (Amazon) Prime (Video) and Hulu,” Leichtman said.

The NFL attempted to schedule more desirable prime-time matchups to stoke viewing this season, but that hasn’t played out. “Despite that proactive attempt, this season also seems to be off to a weaker-than-expected start in terms of the overall ratings,” said Tuna Amobi, an equity analyst at investment research firm CFRA.

But about connecting Trump’s comments to viewing declines, “I would be hard-pressed to draw that correlation,” he said.

Hurricanes hitting the mainland — and subsequent recovery efforts — likely had an effect on viewership during the first two weeks with scores of Americans without electricity or too focused on the storms’ aftermath to watch sports.

Last year, politics played a part in lower ratings, according to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who attributed some of the decline to the presidential election.

Anecdotal evidence suggests some Trump supporters punted the NFL after Kaepernick began his protest against the oppression of people of color by sitting and later kneeling during the anthem, says Brian Wieser, an analyst with Pivotal Research Group.

The “TV ratings” are ratings by the Nielsen company.  The important thing to remember about Nielsen ratings is that they’re a statistical sample. They’re not counting literally every eyeball watching every show. Instead, they’re tallying the viewership of Americans thought to represent their specific demographics, then extrapolating from that viewership to say how many total viewers there are throughout the country. So any given viewership number is a mostly accurate, but not completely accurate, estimate — it simply can’t be completely accurate given how Nielsen tallies its numbers.

Additionally, the more variables you introduce into a particular problem, the harder it becomes to really drill down and say, “This show’s ratings are down from year to year.” It’s easy to say, for example, that Modern Family isn’t pulling the same numbers it did last year because it’s stayed in the same time slot and is still more or less the same show — the actors have just gotten another year older.

But the ratings for the NFL as a whole depend on a whole variety of factors. If you live in north Florida and Jacksonville Jaguars games dominate your NFL broadcasts, you might be less likely to tune in than someone living in New England who gets the Patriots in a comparable time slot. Similarly, a good game will draw stronger viewership throughout its run time than a bad one.

For an example, check out Sports Media Watch’s tally of how the NFL’s recent ratings in various timeslots compare to the 2016-’17 season. Last week’s Thursday Night Football game, which the Los Angeles Rams won in a 41-39 squeaker over the San Francisco 49ers, posted a 38 percent gain in viewership over the comparable Thursday night game from a year earlier, when the Patriots destroyed the Houston Texans 27-0. Viewers keep watching a good game; they tune out of a bad one.

Similarly, the Trump-stirred controversy over the national anthem protests seems to have driven up the ratings for CBS and Fox’s pregame shows this past Sunday. (Networks typically don’t air the anthem on live TV; this week, they did.) When all is said and done — and Monday Night Football, featuring the ever-popular Dallas Cowboys, is factored in — ratings for the NFL in week three should just squeak by the ratings for NFL week three in 2016, even though several games were down when compared to 2016.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football won its prime-time slot with 17.6 million viewers, peaking with 19.4 million during the second quarter.  ESPN reported a 71% hike in viewership for its Monday night game between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals, compared to last season, based on early Nielsen data from specific markets.

The NFL will continue to attract bidders — the networks, DirecTV and others including Amazon, which will broadcast 10 Thursday Night Football games this year starting this week, paid about $7 billion for telecast rights.

The NFL, and all major sports, face some long-term trends that threaten viewership,  NASCAR and the NBA are experiencing similar drops in viewers.  Every NASCAR race that once sold out with waiting lists for tickets has had more and more empty seats for the past four years. Many people, particularly millennials, are just not tuning into traditional television nearly as much as past generations did. The range of leisure substitutes vastly expanded over the past decade, including streaming movies and series, YouTube videos, social media, gaming and texting. Live sports may be doing relatively better than other programming options for television networks, but the relative position doesn’t insulate sports from absolute declines.

CONCLUSION:  The TeaPublicans are lying as well as being stupid.

The TeaPublican claim about the cause of the drop in NFL viewership exposes the fundamental ignorance of Tea Partiers:  They are not smart enough to understand the difference between CORRELATION and CAUSATION.

CORRELATION occurs when two or more events happen at about the same time, or, one happens before or after another.  That’s it.  The events simply happen at or about the same time or one before the other.

CAUSATION means that one or more event(s) causes a second or a series of event(s).

The best example of correlation versus causation is a rooster crowing at dawn.  The rooster crows, the sun appears.  No matter what the rooster may think and no matter what a TeaPublican may think, the rooster’s crowing did not cause the sun to appear.  Correlation — crowing and sunrise at the same time — does not mean causation — rooster crowing causing the sunrise.

Final Score:

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