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NFL’s season opener and Sunday Night Football ratings plummet amid backlash over player protests

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NFL’s season opener and Sunday Night Football ratings plummet amid backlash over player protests – but Tom Brady’s Bucs debut gives Fox a four-year high with 16.4million viewers

  • NBC’s coverage of Thursday’s season opener and Sunday night’s Rams-Cowboys game saw significant viewership declines amid controversial player protests
  • After drawing 22.2 million viewers for last season’s Week 1 matchup, NBC’s Sunday Night Football audience dwindled to 14.6 million this year 
  • NBC’s broadcast of Thursday’s opener between the Chiefs and Texans attracted only 19.3 million viewers, which marked a 12.3 percent drop from last season
  • The opener still averaged a 6.7 rating in the key 18-49 demo, making it the most-watched broadcast since the post-Super Bowl episode of The Masked Singer
  • Fox’s broadcast of Tom Brady’s Buccaneers debut was a major success with 16.4 million viewers – the network’s highest Week 1 audience since the 2016 season
  • The NFL’s Nielsen ratings have taken on increased importance in 2020 as most of the league is playing without fans — or ticket sales — due to the pandemic
  • Critics of protesting athletes have adopted a refrain – ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’ – in response to mass demonstrations against racism and police brutality

By Alex Raskin Sports News Editor For Dailymail.com

Published: | Updated:

The full picture of the NFL’s Week 1 television ratings has yet to be revealed, but early indications are that NBC’s coverage of Thursday’s season opener and Sunday night’s Rams-Cowboys game saw significant viewership declines amid controversial player protests, while Fox’s broadcast of Tom Brady’s Buccaneers debut was a major success.

After drawing 22.2 million viewers for last season’s Week 1 matchup between Pittsburgh and New England, NBC’s Sunday Night Football audience dwindled to 14.6 million this week, according to multiple reports. Meanwhile NBC’s broadcast of Thursday’s opener between the Chiefs and Texans in Kansas City attracted only 19.3 million viewers, which marked a 12.3 percent drop from last season’s Green Bay-Chicago opener.

Despite the ratings drop, the NFL’s opener still averaged a 6.7 rating in the key 18-49 demographic, making it the most-watched broadcast since the post-Super Bowl episode of The Masked Singer in February, according to The Hollywood Reporter. It was also NBC’s biggest audience since the 2020 Oscars, which drew 23.6 million viewers.

The best news for the NFL came during Sunday’s second time slot, where the Saints win over Brady’s Buccaneers drew 16.4 million viewers for CBS. The game marked Fox’s highest-rated Week 1 matchup since 2016. 

NBC’s broadcast of Thursday’s opener between the Chiefs and Texans in Kansas City attracted only 19.3 million viewers, which marked a 12.3 percent drop from last season’s NFL Kickoff

The best news for the NFL came during Sunday’s second time slot, where the Saints win over Brady’s Buccaneers drew 16.4 million viewers for CBS. The game marked Fox’s highest-rated Week 1 matchup since 2016

(Left) A sign at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City displays a slogan from the NFL’s social justice campaign. (Right) Chiefs defensive end Alex Okafor raises a fist during the anthem 

The NFL’s Nielsen ratings have taken on increased importance in 2020 as most of the league is currently playing without fans — or ticket sales — due to the coronavirus pandemic; but also because of the national attention being paid to player protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

This season, the NFL began Week 1 games with a rendition of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ considered by many to be the ‘black national anthem. Many players opted to demonstrate against racism during The Star-Spangled Banner while some teams chose to remain in the locker room rather than standing for either anthem.

The backlash against the demonstrations has been constant since then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first began kneeling in protest during the 2016 NFL season. Although he has remained out of the league since opting out of his contract in anticipation of his release in March of 2017, other athletes have continued protesting against racism.

The NBA, for one, has started its own controversial social justice campaign upon restarting its pandemic-interrupted season in late July. League courts are currently emblazoned with ‘Black Lives Matter’ and players are wearing social justice messages on their jersey, in addition to kneeling during the national anthem.

Critics of protesting athletes have relied on the phrase ‘Get Woke, Go Broke’ to explain any ratings decline. In this tweet, radio host Clay Travis celebrates the NFL’s viewership issues 

After drawing 22.2 million viewers for last season’s Week 1 matchup between Pittsburgh and New England, NBC’s Sunday Night Football audience dwindled to 14.6 million this week for the Cowboys-Rams game from Los Angeles, according to multiple reports

Although the NBA has faced dwindling ratings for years, critics of the demonstrations have embraced a familiar refrain to explain the decline: Get Woke, Go Broke.

The league’s playoff ratings are down 27 percent compared to last year, according to THR, but the NBA is facing other challenges, such as continuing a pandemic-interrupted season in late summer, when audiences are typically smaller.

Almost 40 percent of respondents in a recent Harris poll said they watched less NBA games because the ‘league has become too political.’

President Donald Trump, a vocal critic of athlete protests, has also seized on the trend, tweeting on September 1: ‘People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA. Basketball ratings are WAY down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!’

Trump has seized on the decline in ratings, blaming the NBA and its players for becoming ‘highly political’ in a tweet earlier this month.

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