Monday nights in America during the fall have been about football for many a decade, but with the anthem protests sticking in the side of many a patriotic American it seems that the once unstoppable force has had a roadblock placed directly in front of it.
It’s getting a bit superfluous to state that the NFL has a ratings problem. It’s a bit like saying that Greece has a budgetary shortfall or that Lindsey Lohan has career issues: The trope is so old and the issue so formidable that such simple language seems unsuitable for the gravity of the issue.
If you don’t believe it, believe the “Monday Night Football” ratings this week.
According to NBC Sports, the matchup between the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers drew a 7.6 rating on ESPN.
Not only is that lower than last year’s Week Nine game between the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills, it was also the lowest-rated Week Nine “Monday Night Football” game since 2007 and one of the lowest-rated in history.
There’s even more trouble if you look closer at those two games.
The 2007 game in question — which involved the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens — was essentially over at halftime, with Pittsburgh taking a 35-7 lead into the locker room on the way to a 38-7 victory.
While the Lions haven’t lived up to expectations and the Packers are without star QB Aaron Rodgers, who’s lost for the season, both teams are still within striking distance in the NFC North, particularly if the division-leading Minnesota Vikings continue to have their usual quarterback-related problems.
(The Vikings are currently starting Case Keenum at the position. For the uninitiated, the only more unreliable thing in the stadium on any given Sunday that Mr. Keenum is playing would be if there were a Yugo in the parking lot.)
And while the Lions-Packers game wasn’t exactly the most thrilling thing you would ever see, it was at least closer than the aforementioned contest between the Steelers and Ravens, with the Lions winning 30-17.
Now, we don’t want to subscribe to the fallacy of the single cause here. The NFL has a lot of problems, especially when it comes to ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” There’s cord-cutting, traumatic brain injury, ESPN’s political drift to the left and the growth (and renewal) of other sports like basketball, soccer and baseball.
However, let’s face facts: At least part of the ratings freefall the league is experiencing has to do with the anthem protests and the league’s response to them.
The freefall certainly began accelerating rapidly the moment that Colin Kaepernick started the whole kneeling trend, and the politicization of sports this year has just made things worse for the league.
It’s worth noting that Lions owner Martha Ford has asked players not to kneel, although the venerable Packers have been one of the more active teams in terms of demonstrations. It’s gotten bad enough that one man rented a plan to fly over Lambeau Field with a banner that read “Real men and NFL owners should stand for our country.”