The NFL’s TV ratings have declined for a second straight season, a worrisome development for the league that some have blamed, at least in part, on players protesting during the national anthem. Veteran “Sunday Night Football” announcer Al Michaels agrees with that assessment, but he recently pointed out that he feels President Trump had much to do with exacerbating tensions.
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer published Thursday, Michaels, who will be calling Sunday’s Eagles-Cowboys game, referred to remarks Trump made at a September rally in Alabama. The president told the crowd that an NFL player who “disrespects our flag” should be “fired,” using the phrase “son of a bitch.”
Those comments infuriated many players, as well as drawing statements of condemnation from team owners, and the number of players taking a knee during the anthem went from a handful to more than 200 on the Sunday immediately following Trump’s rally appearance.
“Once the president made those remarks in Alabama, at that particular point it was like throwing a match into a gas tank,” Michaels said. “During the offseason, both sides just have to sit down and figure out a way to make this a situation where it doesn’t overwhelm the conversation about the NFL.”
NFL athletes, some of whom have formed a group called the Players Coalition, have been talking with team owners and league officials about how to move past the protests, including ways to address some of the social issues players say they are trying to highlight. As far as the falling ratings, Michaels said “SNF” had nowhere to go but down.
“It’s number one and it’s getting bashed because the ratings are down,” Michaels told the newspaper. “Two or three years ago, the ratings were so spectacular that there had to be a little bit of a diminishment at some point.”
How much of the ratings drop actually has to do with the protests is open to debate, but the head of advertising for NBCUniversal, the parent company for “SNF,” claimed they have been a factor. “I don’t think there’s any way to prove it, but I do think it has affected the ratings,” Linda Yaccarino said earlier this month (via Deadline).
Papa John’s, which has a major sponsorship deal with the NFL, recently apologized for blaming low quarterly earnings on the protests, saying it supports “the players’ movement to create a new platform for change.” The company also said that “together, as Americans, we should honor our anthem.”
A greater issue, for the NFL and TV networks alike, is the overall drop in prime-time ratings, which can be largely attributed to greater competition for viewers’ attention from streaming services and other Internet options. When the NFL’s ratings declined sharply last year, many pointed to intense interest in the presidential election, but this year’s continued downturn — albeit less precipitous — appears to be part of a larger trend of shifting viewer habits.
It also hasn’t helped the NFL that some of its most marketable stars, including Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr. and J.J. Watt, have been shelved with severe injuries. In addition, there is speculation that weekly games on Thursday have diluted the league’s appeal.
In his Inquirer interview, Michaels also discussed a comment he himself made during “SNF” last month, when he joked that “the Giants are coming off a worse week than Harvey Weinstein.” Later in the telecast, he apologized, telling viewers, “I was trying to be a little flip about somebody obviously very much in the news all over the country, and it was not meant in that manner.”
“Live television is a tightrope. It’s amazing that doesn’t happen more often,” Michaels told the newspaper. “Once in a while, you’re going to say something you wish you could reel back in. The one thing about our business is we don’t have take two.”
(H/T Awful Announcing)
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