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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Perhaps you are one of the football fans who boycotted the NFL this season either because of player protests during the national anthem or because Colin Kaepernick, who started the movement, was never added to a roster.
Perhaps you even stuck with your protest and didn’t just claim you were done with the NFL only to quickly return to watching a dozen hours every Sunday from the Barcalounger in the corner.
If you are one of those dedicated protestors who are still holding out, Sunday is your greatest challenge.
Can you skip the Super Bowl? It’s not just a game between New England and Philadelphia, after all. This requires avoiding your brother-in-law’s annual party where everyone drinks a ton of beer. It means walking away from your neighbor’s vaunted seven-layer dip. It calls for a full rejection of American society … staying home while everyone else lives it up, even if it’s just for the commercials or Justin Timberlake.
What do you do? Go to the movies? Read a book? Watch cable news?
Will President Donald Trump tune into the Super Bowl? Will Kaepernick?
“I believe the Super Bowl transcends,” said Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting & Sports.
Probably, although there will still, undoubtedly, be some people who tune out for personal reasons. How many is the question. Some have already come back, if not publicly, then at least privately. Others will make a Super Bowl exception. Still others will realize that very few players even kneel (other than the weeks after Trump called them out) and none have done so in the playoffs.
To each their own.
Nielsen ratings have been down this season for the NFL, but Lazarus is not one who thinks the sky is falling. While he acknowledges social issues contributed, he also points out that it is but one contributor in a very complex mix, including technology, demographics and injuries/retirements to star players. He also cites NBC’s own data that suggests there isn’t that big of a dropoff, if any at all.
“I think more people are consuming football content,” Lazarus said. “I think there are some less watching the full game broadcast. What’s still underreported however, and Nielsen is working on it, is out-of-home viewing [mainly people on their phone], which adds somewhere between 5 and 10 percent to the overall viewing and that pretty much closes the gap.
“I think between that, the streams and linear, we’ve got similar number of people watching.”
Nielsen requires selected people to chronicle the shows they are viewing. It’s done on the honor system. How honest are these people? People tend to lie about pretty much everything, so, for instance, are the ratings for “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” actually much higher than the ratings suggest because people are too embarrassed to admit they watch? Conversely are the ratings for “PBS NewsHour” actually lower?
There were many people offended by players kneeling during the national anthem. There were many people who did not want politics to enter their sports entertainment. They all have the right to be offended and the right to allow that to determine what they do and don’t watch. It’s a free and rollicking country. However, social protests are very difficult to maintain over a long period of time. They require incredible discipline and America is an undisciplined country. Which is why they usually fizzle, quickly.
As such, it’s difficult to imagine all of those people are still altering their lives and depriving themselves of a product they love because of Kaepernick.
Some? Absolutely. All? Common sense says no. For instance, the Pro Bowl ratings were up. Does that make any sense?
Are there Nielsen families watching the exact same amount of football but lying on the form? Probably.
“Sure,” Lazarus said. “Of course. It’s a totally imperfect system. I do believe the protest narrative turned some people off. And I think it’s unfortunate the players did not articulate what exactly they are doing very well at the beginning and they let other people define the narrative.
“It wasn’t about patriotism,” Lazarus continued. “It wasn’t about the military. It was about other things. Between the players and the league and even to some degree the media, the narrative got lost. And that’s unfortunate. There have been some strides between the league and the players to address some of the players’ concerns, it is good for society.”
The biggest factor in determining Sunday’s rating? A competitive game.
“If this is a game that goes deep into overtime, we’ll probably going to get a good rating,” said Fred Gaudelli, who will executive produce the broadcast for NBC. “If it’s 49-0, we won’t.”
For NBC, there isn’t much it can do. This is the 19th Super Bowl the network has broadcast. Times change. Trends too. It will document whatever happens. People will watch. Or they won’t.
But they’ll probably watch, Lazarus thinks.
“When you accumulate all the different elements and media platforms from television and our streams of our linear product I’m confident it will be the biggest show of the year obviously. The Super Bowl has always had a trading zone, somewhere between the high 30s and low 40s and we’ll probably land in there.”
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