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NFL Sunday game ratings fell in Week 3 — but pregame shows were up

Trump discussing the NFL, and player protests, in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sept. 22, 2017.
Trump discussing the NFL, and player protests, in Huntsville, Alabama, on Sept. 22, 2017.

Donald Trump’s war of words on the NFL stoked higher interest in pregame discussion on Sunday of Week 3.

But fewer people watched the actual games.

Viewership of Sunday’s games on NBC, CBS, and Fox were down a total average 4% compared to Week 3 of last year, according to Nielsen data.

Sunday Night Football on NBC (Washington Redskins vs Oakland Raiders) took the biggest hit: viewership fell 11% from last year and it was the lowest-rated Sunday Night Football since 2006. Fox’s national Sunday game (Philadelphia Eagles vs New York Giants) fell 16%. And CBS’s two national Sunday games (Green Bay Packers vs Cincinnati Bengals and Kansas City Chiefs vs Los Angeles Chargers) fell by a combined 1%. (CBS issued a press release celebrating a 4% rise in its ratings on Sunday, but that included the growth in the pregame show.)

On the other hand, all networks saw spikes for their pregame programming, suggesting that many fans wanted to see what football analysts would say about Trump’s recent comments on player protests. Many NFL teams had also already issued statements responding to Trump before their games kicked off.

CBS’s pregame show was up 33%; Fox’s 11am NFL pregame show was up 30%; and Fox’s Sunday night pregame show was up 9%.

Experts generally expect Monday Night Football to buoy the overall week higher thanks to the Dallas Cowboys. When the Cowboys played the New York Giants on Sunday night in Week 1, it was the only Sunday game that saw an increase in viewership over the year before.

So what does this suggest? The Week 3 numbers so far are mixed enough that they can be used to argue a number of positions.

It’s possible that many TV viewers are more interested in discussion of the protests than in watching the games themselves. It’s possible that many fans were turned off by the player protests, and tuned out of the games because of it. It’s possible that the 4% ratings dip on Sunday was mostly unrelated to Trump’s comments and the protests across the league.

We’ll be watching the ratings data closely for you at Yahoo Finance all season and explaining what it means for the business of the NFL and its corporate sponsors.

For more on the business of the NFL, listen to our new Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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