Ever since Drew Brees acknowledged that responding to a question about players taking a knee in protest of police brutality and racial injustice with a statement about disrespecting the American flag was a mistake, plenty of media pundits have openly speculated about how Donald Trump would react and what effect that might have on television ratings and team owners.
President Trump has tweeted about the protests and railed against players taking a knee for the anthem at rallies. Vice President Pence made a show of walking out of an Indianapolis Colts game when he saw players kneeling during the anthem. With another presidential election coming up this year, it stands to reason that the Republican ticket wants to put the issue front and center after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell released a video on Friday acknowledging the league was wrong for how it handled player protests in 2016.
Sports Illustrated’s Jimmy Traina wrote in his “Extra Mustard” column on Tuesday that the League’s best move may simply be not taking the bait. The story could fade out quicker if Trump is shouting into the wind instead of getting a reaction.
“Forgive me for the terrible cliche, but it takes two to tango. The NFL shouldn’t tango,” Traina writes. “Of course, this would also require the NFL to not be afraid of Trump, Fox News and MAGA. The league also has to be OK with losing a few bucks, if it even gets to that point.”
It is fair to wonder if it would get to that point. Public sentiment is very different in 2020 than it was in 2016. If racial justice becomes a major theme of this election, it is likely that the players’ message gets more focus than the mechanism. That could mean less concern from sponsors about showing the players some support.
Another element to consider is television ratings. In 2016, TV ratings did take a hit for the NFL. Andrew Marchand was quick to point out in his Wednesday column for the New York Post that there is no way to say the decline in viewership was all about objections to players kneeling during the national anthem.
“While it may have had a slight impact on some ratings, overall the numbers fall then and subsequent rise has been due to a number of factors that media writer Anthony Crupi, who studies this exact thing, has pointed to. There were an inordinate amount of bad games in 2016, Crupi’s studies showed, and an oversaturation of football combined with an explosion of cord-cutting.”
A major difference between 2016 and 2020 is the proliferation of legalized sports betting. Even though people have always bet on NFL games, most of it was done underground until 2018. Multiple states legalizing the action has completely de-stigmatized wagering and made it easier to do. That means there are more people paying attention to games. Could that be enough to make up for whatever ratings hit the league might take due to players kneeling during the anthem?
Finally, there is no bigger factor on the NFL’s side than just playing the games. Sports has been mostly at a standstill in 2020 as a result of the Covid-19 Pandemic. It is hard to imagine the return of live football games is met with anything other than jubilation this fall after a spring and summer with few to no live sports at all.
Make no mistake. There is still a tightrope to walk here. If the president and conservative media outlets decide to make players kneeling a talking point in the fall, it will have some effect on the NFL. The NFL is in a strong position though, and if owners and Roger Goodell decide to follow Traina’s advice and not engage or overreact, it would not be surprising.
Poll Data Shows Tepid Response To Tom Brady Joining FOX
“A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.”
FOX Sports reportedly signed Tom Brady to a 10-year deal worth $375 million to make the seven-time Super Bowl champion the new lead analyst for its top NFL broadcast once his playing career is over.
A recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Front Office Sports showed that 1 in 3 Americans are more likely to watch a game with Brady on the microphone.
The poll said 2 in 5 NFL fans have a better opinion of FOX Sports following the deal, with 41% of NFL fans being at least somewhat more likely to watch a game with Brady as an analyst.
Data shows one-third of NFL fans think the deal Brady reportedly agreed to is worth about the same as its reported value.
That reaction could probably be described as “tepid”. That may be exactly what FOX expects and maybe all it wants.
Last week, Domonique Foxworth of ESPN suggested that the paycheck is less about what the network thinks Tom Brady means to viewers and more about showing the NFL that the network values its product.
FOX Not Interested In Joining Streaming Sports Wars
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take?”
The CEO of FOX doesn’t plan on forking over billions of dollars to be people’s last choice for paid streaming services.
Lachlan Murdoch said at a time when more than 80% of American homes already have some kind of paid streaming service, it’s not worthwhile to jump on that train.
Amazon, Netflix and Disney+ typically account for the average streaming presence in a household.
“All this fight that’s going on, sort of gladiatorial kind of bloodshed, is really for that last position, right, in the three to four services that people will take,” Murdoch said at a tech conference earlier this year. “And so the billions of dollars that’s being spent by multiple aspirants is all for that last position. And so we are extraordinarily — I want to say that — we’re happy to be sort of sitting on the sidelines.”
Murdoch told Benjamin Swinburne that when it comes to the NFL, FOX’s media rights are the same as CBS, NBC and ESPN. The main focus for the company remains on keeping games on TV.
“We don’t believe it helps us to put those rights under a streaming service or free on over-the-air. We think it’s very important that those rights remain exclusive to the broadcast environment,” Murdoch said.
FOX does stream games through its app, but it is only the games it is also carrying on its broadcast network or FS1.
NBA Draft To Get Simulcast From ESPN & ABC
“This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.”
ESPN is set for the 2022 NBA Draft coming up on June 23 at 8 p.m. from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The network announced Wednesday the crews that will handle coverage on both ESPN and ABC.
ABC will broadcast the first round in primetime. Kevin Negandhi will host and will be joined by Stephen A. Smith, Chiney Ogwumike and Jalen Rose. Monica McNutt will be reporting and interviewing draftees.
This follows the simulcast model ESPN and ABC have employed for several years with the NFL Draft.
Malika Andrews will host both rounds for ESPN. Jay Bilas, Kendrick Perkins and Adrian Wojnarowski will share the set. Analysts Bobby Marks and Mike Schmitz will contribute.
“We’re thrilled that Malika Andrews will host this year’s ESPN presentation as she brings her well-documented, widespread skillset to our main set,” said David Roberts, head of NBA and Studio Production for ESPN. “The event will showcase the scope and depth of our NBA and college basketball talent roster with accomplished journalists and high-profile personalities across ESPN, ABC and ESPN Radio.”
ESPN will air a pre-draft red carpet show hosted by Cassidy Hubbarth from 5-6 p.m. Perkins and Richard Jefferson will also make appearances.