There was a great deal of speculation heading into the 2020 NFL season on whether or not the NFL’s shift in policy allowing players to peacefully protest and kneel, paired with its new league-wide social justice messaging would affect the television ratings for the 2020 season. President Trump and many of his supporters have suggested an NFL boycott on social media. The ratings are in for the first week of NFL games. Survey says.
NFL changes position on kneeling and national anthem
In early June, days after George Floyd’s death and less than 24 hours after a group of NFL players produced a video calling on the league to address systemic racism and Black people’s unjust treatment, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded with a video on social media.
“We, the NFL, condemn racism and the systematic oppression of Black People,” Goodell said. “We, the NFL, admit we were wrong for not listening to NFL players earlier and encourage all to speak out and peacefully protest. We, the NFL, believe Black Lives Matter.”
Goodell’s initial apology never directly addressed former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who first kneeled in protest back in 2016. That changed in August.
“The first thing I’d say is I wish we had listened earlier, Kaep, to what you were kneeling about and what you were trying to bring attention to,” Goodell bluntly admitted on Emmanuel Acho’s YouTube series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
President Trump suggests an NFL boycott
Despite Kaepernick’s insistence from the beginning that he was kneeling in protest of racial injustice and police brutality, not the flag, the national anthem, or military, President Donald Trump has remained steadfastly opposed to the former quarterback’s position. Stand for the national anthem. Full stop.
Even with a significant shift in public opinion following the death of George Floyd, the President never wavered in his stance on standing during the anthem. In mid-June, Trump said if players kneeled, he would support an NFL boycott of the upcoming season.
“Tony Fauci has nothing to do with NFL Football,” Trump tweeted. “They are planning a very safe and controlled opening. However, if they don’t stand for our National Anthem and our Great American Flag, I won’t be watching!!!
Effects of NFL boycott not reflected in new ratings
On Sunday, the most-anticipated matchup of the day on Fox featured the two oldest quarterbacks in the NFL and two of the best to ever play the game in Drew Brees and new Tampa Bay signal caller Tom Brady. Going into the game, there was some concern an NFL boycott might have a dramatic effect on ratings.
According to Fox Sports PR, that was definitely not the case. In fact, the Saints-Buccaneers game drew the highest Fox NFL Week 1 game ratings over the last four years. The game received a 16.2 overnight rating and the network projects the game as the “most-watched telecast of any kind since Super Bowl LIV.” That’s the most-watched program since February on ALL of television, not just sports.
It appears those concerns of an NFL boycott affecting viewership were overblown. Apparently, for a select group of NFL fans, their passion for the game outweighs the uncomfortable feelings they might encounter when watching players kneel during the anthem. For everybody else, it was just a relief to watch football after months of speculation it might never happen.