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Trump And The Truth About NFL Ratings


When President Trump weighed in on the issue of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, he said that because of the protest, the NFL is losing viewers and popularity. Commentator Mike Pesca thinks this is an odd assertion for a couple of reasons.

MIKE PESCA: When Donald Trump picked a fight with the NFL a couple of weeks ago, the league must have been put in the position of Tom Brady if you had told him that his opponents would be favored at Foxborough. Wait a minute. I'm the underdog? Improbably, yes. Most of the attention the president's received in this fight came when he opined that players should not be taking a knee during the anthem, and then he made some personnel recommendations to upper management. But a large part of Trump's argument is that the NFL's ratings are plummeting. Way down, he tweets. And it's because of the light he's shining. But is this true?

In fact, in ratings through four weeks compared to last year, the NFL viewership is down a little. But consider that of the 78 returning television shows from last year, 76 have a ratings decline. Last week, for instance, NFL ratings on Fox were up quite a bit, but NFL ratings on CBS were down. This week-to-week stuff depends less on broad, sweeping Zeitgeisty (ph) trends than factors like are the Cowboys playing and how's Andrew Luck's labrum healing?

If you want the broad sweep, consider this - last year, admittedly an off-year for ratings in the NFL, the top six shows on American television in order were "Sunday Night Football," "Thursday Night Football" on NBC, "NCIS," "Thursday Night Football" on CBS, "The Big Bang Theory" and "The OT." "The OT" is a highlight show, by the way, and not of "The Big Bang Theory," of football. "Sunday Night Football" has been the number one show in America for five years and the Super Bowl got 50 million more viewers than Trump or even Hillary Clinton had voters.

The NFL is clearly the most dominant force on television today. It's a juggernaut. You could say it's the last vestige of the monoculture. It's hard to overstate the prominence of the NFL in American life, yet apparently easy for the president to understate it, which is weird because Trump's rhetorical approach stems from his ability to articulate what his audience perceives as truth on a gut level. And unlike so many other arguments which have served as rallying points, in this case, Trump's audience should not only think but feel that Trump's argument about the NFL's unpopularity is untrue. They would know.

In many ways, the Trump voter is the NFL viewer. Seventy-seven percent of NFL fans are Caucasian; 87 percent of Trump voters are Caucasian. Both Trump fans and NFL voters - more male than the population at large. And both are quite a bit older than the general population or the electorate. To Trump's fans, his denigrations of the NFL might register as righteous or might be seen as gamesmanship, a wily defensive back grabbing the jersey of a wide receiver in order to disrupt a pattern. It's something to think about and maybe something to laugh about, possibly to get mad about, the moment they, as always, tune into the game on Sunday.

MARTIN: Commentator Mike Pesca is the host of the Slate podcast The Gist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.