NFL TV Ratings Down; Fans Cite a Host of Factors, Led by National Anthem Protests
Seven Possible Reasons Resonate with the Public
Viewership for NFL games is down approximately 12% this season, sending league and club officials in search of reasons. A Seton Hall Sports Poll asked people to identify factors accounting for the drop.
Each question was asked separately, allowing for a yes, no or don't know response. Thus, respondents could weigh in on each of the seven possibilities as a contributing factor without identifying one single factor.
The leading factor - the one receiving the most "yesses" was players not standing for the national anthem. However, the seven factors all evoked a large number of yes responses, so that even the least chosen, at 33%, represents a lot of fans.
56% of respondents cited players not standing, with 50% citing the distraction of the presidential campaign, and 47% the controversy over the handling of domestic violence cases involving players.
On the question of domestic violence, men and women responded equally; 47% of men cited that as a possible reason, 46% of women said yes to that possibility.
Other factors included games on too many days, over-saturating the market (44%), increased interest in post-season baseball (39%), the ongoing controversy over head injuries (33%) and a decline in quality of play on the field (33%).
"There is no single factor here, no one fixable thing for the NFL to act on," said Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, which is sponsored by The Sharkey Institute. "But it is somewhat remarkable that the impact of the national anthem protest seems to hold, given that the action occurs pre-game and isn't even televised."
Roughly Half Say Sports Events and Presidential Election Could Be 'Rigged'
With the word "rigged" being thrown about in this election season, the Seton Hall Sports Poll asked Americans if they felt that sports contests and the upcoming presidential election "could be rigged by outside influences."
A majority, though in some cases slim, said "yes, they could be rigged."
The results: 52% said "yes" that an NFL game "could be rigged by outside influences" with 42% saying "no." For an NBA game, 51% said yes; 42% no.
For college sports the margins were closer: for a college football game, it was 47% yes, 46% no, and for a college basketball game, it was 46% yes, 45% no.
Of all the questions asked, only baseball's World Series, taking place as the poll was conducted, had a majority that believed its games could not be "fixed," with only 42% saying "yes" and 51% saying "no."
And pointedly, 47% of Americans said "yes" a presidential election "could be rigged by outside influences," while 46% said "no".
In each case, between 7-9% said they did not know.
Asked whether the presidential election "could be rigged," 47% said yes, and there is a great deal of overlap in the people that believe in rigging - of that 47%, some two-thirds said yes, the NFL or NBA could be rigged, and somewhat fewer - 57% - said the World Series could be rigged.
"The sports organizing bodies rely heavily on the public believing that their games are honest," said Rick Gentile. "This measurement of public perception certainly can't please them, just as people in government are so upset about Donald Trump's charges."
The poll also asked whether some teams having ownership positions with fantasy sports companies opens the door for the rigging of performances of professional athletes to affect the daily fantasy outcomes. 45% said yes, 32% said no, with 24% stating "don't know."
By More Than 2 to 1, Americans Say Pros and Colleges Not Doing Enough to Police Sexual Abuse by Athletes
54% Believe Locker Room Talk is Similar to the Trump Tape
By a 58% to 24% margin, Americans believe that professional leagues and college conferences are not doing enough to police instances of sexual abuse by athletes.
A total of 58% said "no" on the question of doing enough to police the instances, with only 24% saying enough was being done.
68% felt that universities were commonly hiding instances of sexual abuse by athletes, with only 21% feeling they were not hiding those instances.
76% felt the NFL should have stronger penalties for players involved in domestic violence cases, with only 15% saying "no". A third of respondents - 33% - felt that reports of sexual abuse by athletes make them less interested in following sports.
"The issue of the policing of sex abuse by athletes is not going away, and there seems to be a clear call for the organizing bodies to step up on areas of policing and punishment," noted Rick Gentile.
By 72% to 16%, Americans believe that male athletes discuss their sexual conquests of women in locker room discussions. That finding was evenly placed among men (73%) and women (71%). By 54% to 33% American believe that athletes speak in the manner expressed by Donald Trump in his 2005 tape, with 58% of males thinking "yes, they do" and 51% of women thinking the same.
Rick Gentile was interviewed by Seth Everett for a podcast on the poll's findings.
About the Poll:
This poll was conducted by telephone October 24-26 among 841 adults in the United States. The Seton Hall Sports Poll is conducted by the Sharkey Institute.
Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard landline and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus 3.4 percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.
The Seton Hall Sports Poll has been conducted regularly since 2006.