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Does The NFL Need To Worry About Pushback To Anthem Protests?

“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.”

Demetri Ravanos

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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.

Sports TV News

ESPN Creates ACC/SEC Challenge

The series will begin for the 2023-2024 season, launching with 28 games played between the two sports.

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ESPN, in conjunction with the ACC and SEC, is slated to announce the creation of the ACC/SEC Challenge for men’s and women’s basketball.

The series will begin for the 2023-2024 season, launching with 28 games played between the two sports. That number will grow to 30 contests when the SEC expands for the 2025-2026 season.

Every game in the challenge will be aired on an ESPN platform, with each side hosting the same amount of home games.

The creation of the event comes on the heels of the Big Ten’s new media rights deal with FOX, NBC, and CBS, ending a nearly four-decade relationship with ESPN. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge began in 1999, with the SEC/Big 12 Challenging beginning in 2013. Both events will cease to exist following this season.

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Sports TV News

FOX Sports Sees Record-Setting Ratings Weekend

The World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

Jordan Bondurant

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FOX Sports has been home to a number of record-setting games in terms of viewership over the last several days.

In addition to FOX Sports setting a new mark for a Thanksgiving and regular season NFL audience, the World Cup matchup between the U.S. and England on Black Friday and Michigan/Ohio State on Saturday saw tens of millions of viewers tuning in.

The network reported the U.S./England match in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup averaged 15.377 million. It was the most-watched English-language soccer game in the U.S. ever, topping the 1994 World Cup final between Italy and Brazil.

Viewership of the match was up 11% compared to the second group stage contest for the U.S. team in 2014 against Portugal. The audience peaked at 19.646 million from 3:30-3:45 p.m.

FOX Sports also reported the Michigan/Ohio State game on Saturday drew in 17 million, which made it the most-watched regular season college game on the network ever. That figure was also the highest of any regular season contest since 2011. That game also saw the audience peak at 19.6 million.

Viewership for the game was up 3% compared to last year.

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Sports TV News

ESPN Bowl Plans Could Be Altered By NFL Flex Scheduling

“While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules.”

Jordan Bondurant

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ESPN could be forced to adjust its upcoming bowl season schedule if the NFL decides to flex a Las Vegas Raiders game a week before Christmas.

ESPN announced its contingency plans for two bowl contests, the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. The Las Vegas Bowl is currently planned to kick off from Allegiant Stadium at 7:30 p.m. on December 17. The Raiders right now are still planning to play in the Sunday night game the next night against the Patriots.

Should the NFL decide to flex the Raiders out of the SNF window, ESPN will swap kickoff times between the Las Vegas Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl. That would mean the game in sin city will kick off at 11:30 a.m. local time, with the contest in Albuquerque starting at 5:20 p.m. local time that evening.

“The SRS Distribution Las Vegas Bowl and New Mexico Bowl are both owned and operated by ESPN Events, so this change is a solution that will work for all parties,” ESPN Events vice president Clint Overby said. “While this situation poses a challenge, we are accustomed to flexibility and having to maneuver our event schedules. We are more than prepared to move forward with this revised schedule if necessary.”

Kickoff times will be determined well enough ahead that the schools taking part in both games shouldn’t be adversely affected.

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