Throughout this 2017 NFL season, television ratings have declined and fans, TV pundits, and reporters have speculated as to the biggest cause. On social media, many people railed that players protesting during the national anthem led outraged Americans to boycott.
A new survey from SurveyMonkey and Ozy Media, shared first with Yahoo Finance, finds that 33% of NFL fans boycotted the league this year—but not entirely because they were outraged by the player protests. Nearly equal proportions boycotted in support of Colin Kaepernick or the protests as boycotted in support of President Trump, who vocally opposed the protests.
The survey, conducted from Dec. 8—11 of 2017, polled a national sample of 1,726 adults ages 18 and up. It found that 1,233 of those people identifed as football fans.
The survey then asked the football fans: “Did you purposely stop watching or attending NFL games this season for any reason?” 33% of respondents said yes.
That group, which the survey labeled as “boycotting,” was asked why, and was given multiple options. Note: Respondents were allowed to select multiple answers; they were not asked which was the biggest factor, just which factors contributed.
They answered as follows: 32% said they stopped watching or attending NFL games “in support of Donald Trump”; 22% said “in solidarity with players kneeling”; 13% said “no interest in the teams playing”; 12% said “in support of Colin Kaepernick”; and 11% said “news about traumatic brain injuries among players.” Another 8% said “games are boring.” 46% chose “some other reason.”
The results also show an interesting difference between male and female respondents: more men said they turned away from the NFL in support of Trump (35% to 25%), while more women said they did it in support of the players kneeling (30% to 17%) or in support of Kaepernick (17% to 10%).
At a rally in Alabama in September, Trump declared NFL team owners should cut NFL players who kneel during the national anthem: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!'” He also took personal credit for the NFL ratings decline (“NFL ratings are down massively… The number one reason happens to be that they like watching what’s happening with yours truly”) and urged fans to walk out of NFL games if players protest during the anthem (“If you see it, even if it’s one player, leave the stadium. I guarantee things will stop”).
Colin Kaepernick began his kneeling protest in the 2016 season, and players who protested this season were following his lead, so people who chose “solidarity with players kneeling” likely also chose “support of Kaepernick.”
In other words, the majority of NFL fans who turned off the NFL this year did so at least partly because of the player protests—but some were motivated by Trump’s outrage over the protests, while some wanted to support the protests or the player who first started them. There’s an irony there: although Trump did encourage people to boycott, players who protested were not trying to get fans to boycott the NFL.
To be sure, poll results come with a healthy grain of salt, maybe now more than ever after the 2016 presidential election polling. These days you can likely find a poll to support whatever view you might have, and a survey respondent can certainly lie. The SurveyMonkey/Ozy poll has a 3.5% margin of error.
And there’s nuance to consider here: although it’s likely fair to assume that support of Kapernick is the same as support of the protests, it’s possible there are people who were outraged that no team signed Kaepernick, but were also outraged by the player protests. Similarly, it’s possible there are people who did not like the protests but also did not like Trump’s constant attacks on the NFL. (In a Seton Hall University poll in November, 71% of respondents said Trump should “stay out of it.”)
One survey won’t sway anyone who feels strongly on the issue of the player protests and President Trump’s tirades about them. But it does at least suggest that the protests, and NFL fans feeling strongly about them, had a significant impact on the 10% overall ratings decline for NFL games in 2017.