The NFL’s season-opening game between the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans drew disappointing TV ratings fueling continued questions about whether increased political activism in sports is driving fans away.
Preliminary Nielsen ratings show that 16.4 million people tuned in to the Thursday night primetime game, which is a 16% decrease from the number of people who watched last season’s opener between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
Ratings in professional sports have been down since returning from their coronavirus-related hiatus, despite people being more likely to be stuck at home and having been deprived of sports on TV for months. Some fans have expressed a dislike of overt social justice demonstrations that have taken over in football and basketball.
The NFL featured social justice messages in the end zones, a playing of the black national anthem before the game, and players locking arms before the game as social justice messages were broadcast on the scoreboard. And even those efforts were further politicized by the Texans, who stayed in the locker room while the national anthems were played as a protest against “empty gestures.”
There weren’t many fans at the game due to social distancing for COVID-19, but some of the fans in attendance booed players during a moment of silence before the game, apparently displeased with the social justice presentation.
The NBA playoff ratings during the first round were alarmingly low, down 27% from 2019 and 40% from 2018. The NBA’s social justice displays have been even more ubiquitous than the NFL’s. “Black Lives Matter” is painted on the court in large letters for every game, and players display social justice messages on the back of their jerseys while coaches sport “Racial Justice” badges on their shirts.
A recent Harris Poll found that politics has been a top reason people are turning away from the NBA:
A new Harris Poll backs Trump’s critique of the NBA, with 39% of sports fans saying they are watching fewer games. And the chief reason why? Politics. The longtime polling agency surveyed nearly 2,000 people over the weekend and gave people ten options to choose from on why they are watching less basketball.
“The league has become too political” was the clear choice for the decline, with 38% of respondents. “Boring without fans” captured 28% of the vote while the NBA’s association with China caused 19% of sports fans to turn the dial, another nod to a league Trump labeled a “political organization” last week after players boycotted games in response to a police officer shooting Jacob Blake seven times in the back in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The poll found that Republicans were more likely to be turned off by the league’s politics that Democrats.