Seven months into the Trump presidency, does the NFL still need to worry that the news might affect the league’s ratings this season? The 2016 presidential election is widely believed to have hurt NFL viewership last year, as people were paying more attention to the race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton than pro football.

But even though the election is long past, it’s possible that a constantly churning news cycle and a president that frequently makes news — often dumping those developments late on Friday afternoons when they tend to get less coverage — could still have an effect on NFL ratings.

As SportsBusiness Journal’s John Ourand writes, cable news channels have drawn huge ratings this summer. Call it the “Trump Bump.” MSNBC’s ratings were up 72 percent in June, while CNN’s numbers increased by 21 percent and Fox News saw a 19 percent gain in viewership. Compared to last year, all three of those networks have seen their ratings increase by double-digits.

That doesn’t figure to change, though some will surely welcome the distraction of the NFL and college football on weekends. Viewers who consider news and current events far more important, and want to see what the administration might do next could very well turn people away from the NFL.

Several other factors were attributed to the NFL’s ratings slide last season. For instance, an oversaturation of the product with the league adding Thursday nights to its weekly schedule, in addition to channels like NFL RedZone that allow viewers to keep tabs on every game without tuning into national and regional broadcasts. Between Thursday Night Football and NFL games in London, providing another game window on Sundays, did the NFL just get too greedy?

Some, such as CBS chairman Les Moonves, cited diminished star power with Peyton Manning retired and Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of last season. Others pointed to outrage and dissatisfaction over Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem, bringing politics into the sanctuary of sports. Perhaps the simpler answer was the on-field product contributing to viewers finding something else to watch. The overall level of play, poor officiating affecting outcomes and making games longer, and lackluster matchups for national showcases on Monday and Thursday nights were likely factors as well.

However, most of the reasons listed above can change. New NFL stars will eventually emerge. The quality of play and officiating can improve. The additional games on Thursdays and early Sunday mornings won’t likely be going away any time soon. There’s just too much money involved. But more appealing matchups could help those windows.

The one thing that the NFL and its broadcast partners can’t control is the news. Not only could events like the violence in Charlottesville and Hurricane Harvey draw viewers away from NFL game broadcasts, but current events tend to have an even longer life in the news cycle because of how President Trump and the White House respond to such occurrences. The tumult in the administration, with cabinet members and various advisors being fired in a constant overhaul of White House staff, is also a continuing story that news outlets cover on what often seems like an hourly basis. It’s fodder for constant discussion on cable news channels as well.

Maybe the return of football will provide some escape from the news and developments that are frequently upsetting to a large chunk of the population. But has the frequently churning news cycle already affected your sports viewing during the week? If so, will NFL Sundays be any different?

[SportsBusiness Journal]

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports,, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.

  • sportsfan365

    You should expect the NFL’s ratings to be lackluster again, as apart from removing a commercial between a kickoff touchback and the next offensive play virtually nothing about the product has changed. The pre-season games so far have been interminable, with poor play and frequent penalties in abundance – which won’t be corrected before the first game of the season since most starters will sit out their last opportunity for a live-fire practice.

  • JSpicoli

    Oh so THAT will be your excuse this year.

    The league has been self destructing for 15 years with rule changes, London games, etc.

    The stupid players disrespecting the country that gives them the chance to make huge money for a kids game, and promoting a false narrative is the straw that will break their back.

  • Just A Guy

    I didn’t watch football last year because of kneeling for the national anthem. Most of my football fan friends (about 90 percent) didn’t watch as well for the same reason. All last season, I heard random people say they didn’t watch football because of the kneeling for the national anthem, even when the subject wasn’t brought up. I see posts all over Facebook, and comments in areas like these about people stopping for the same reason. Not once, never, have I heard anyone attribute not watching sports to anything political. Funny how the NFL is the only sport complaining about declining ratings and attributing to the loss election coverage and “Trump.”