Don't Believe the Hype About That Poll Blaming Protests for the NFL's Ratings Slide


You may have seen a survey floating around on ESPN that claims that the top reason for the NFL’s drop in ratings last season was protests against the national anthem by people like Colin Kaepernick:

This may seem like a huge deal, but don’t believe the hype. The poll is a lot less ominous when you dive down into the details.

The survey, released by J.D. Power, says that 26% of viewers who tuned out the NFL last season did so because they were turned off by the protests. Kaepernick, of course, was the most prominent of the protesters, but far from the only one.

Well shit—26% of those who watched fewer games last season? If you’re Very Good At Math, you might even tell yourself, “Self, that’s more than one fourth!”

Except, it kind of isn’t. Let’s pull out our calculators and break it down.

J.D. Power surveyed 9,200 people—the vast majority of whom—about 89%— watched as much or more football in the 2016 as they did in 2015. Of that group, only 12% said they watched fewer NFL games than they did the year before (Yes, we know that doesn’t add up 100, but we’re using ESPN’s numbers. Go figure.)

That’s about 1,104 people total. And of that group, 26% said the reason they watched less football was because of national anthem protests. Do the math and that gives you a whopping 287 people.

Basically, you could fit almost all of the people so dissatisfied with a peaceful, constitutionally-protected protest that they would watch fewer NFL games into one (albeit large) NYC subway car.

Let’s take a look at what ESPN cites as the second-biggest reason viewers said they watched less football last year: “the league’s off-the-field image issues with domestic violence or with game delays, including penalties.” Firstly, this is a gross pairing, combining an important social and women’s rights issue with one that has to do with the game’s mechanics. But putting that aside—we’re told that 24% of people who tuned in less to NFL games cited this as their primary reason. That comes out to about 264 people, only 23 less than the number of people unhappy with the national anthem protests.

Now, there’s no indication in the ESPN article about whether this poll is supposed to be a representative sample. But it’s not exactly encouraging that if you went and polled the bar at your neighborhood Applebee’s during Friday happy hour, you could potentially overturn these results. And if it’s not a representative sample, why is ESPN hyping it like this?

An important detail is that it’s not easy to catch the national anthem being played before a typical NFL football game. The anthem typically isn’t broadcast, and if it were, this would mean a fan is tuning in at precisely the right moment to even catch it. So, it doesn’t feel quite right to say that fans stopped watching entire NFL games because they were so turned off by anthem protests that may or may not have been shown at the time they occurred. What would have pissed them off is the coverage of the protests— which was ubiquitous and leaves plenty of room for dissatisfaction from both Kaepernick supporters and detractors.

We do know how many quarterback jobs Kaepernick presently holds as a result of his protest, though.

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