Anthem Protests Fuel Ratings Surge at NFL Pre-Game Shows, Sunday TV Windows Slip 4%

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Charles Barkley on The NFL Today
Charles Barkley on The NFL Today Credit: CBS

While we won't have a complete picture of how Sunday's NFL ratings shook out until Tuesday morning, when the final live-plus-same-day numbers are in, the preliminary Nielsen ratings on Monday suggested that the prospect of a large-scale anthem protest helped boost interest in the noon pre-game shows.

According to Nielsen overnight data, "The NFL Today" on CBS and "Fox NFL Sunday" saw a big lift in deliveries Sunday, as the two shows averaged a combined 6.9 household rating, up 19 percent compared to the year-ago 5.8 rating.

CBS on Monday said "The NFL Today" had delivered its highest overnight rating (3.2) since 2010. This marked a 33 percent improvement compared to the year-ago 2.4 rating the pre-game show delivered on Sept. 25, 2016. Eight percent of all households that had their TVs on during the noon-to-1 p.m. EDT window were tuned in to Sunday's installment of "The NFL Today."

"Fox NFL Sunday," which is the bigger draw among the two broadcast pre-game shows, was up 9 percent year-over-year with a 3.7 overnight rating.

Analysts on both Sunday tee-off programs spent a good deal of their airtime chewing over the anthem controversy, which was reignited on Friday evening when President Donald Trump used a political rally in Alabama as a cudgel with which to slam the NFL. CBS anchor James Brown was unambiguous in his response to the president's remarks, characterizing them as "dismissive, vulgar and divisiveā€¦and insensitive" before adding that Trump's words were unlikely to "resolve problems, build bridges and foster civil dialogue."

Turner Sports NBA analyst Charles Barkley, who paid a visit to the "NFL Today" set, offered that the next step for the players participating in the protests would be to "figure out how we can go back in our communities and make a difference."

On Fox, Terry Bradshaw capped a monologue with the suggestion that the president "should concentrate on serious issues like North Korea and health care rather than ripping into athletes and the NFL."

If curiosity about how NFL players would respond to the president's Alabama speech had fans streaming to the pre-game shows, whether they stuck around for the better part of the actual games is another matter. While overnight ratings are directional at best -- the preliminary data is culled from the 56 local media markets in which Nielsen maintains electronic TV meters, and thereby offers an incomplete ratings breakdown -- the early results were a mixed bag.

CBS's regional coverage, which included a game that went to overtime and two other contests that were decided by three points, was up 11 percent year-over-year, and its late national window, featuring the Bengals-Packers OT thriller in most markets, was essentially flat with a 13.8 rating. Fox, on the other hand, saw its single-header window drop 16 percent; two of the 1 p.m. games were competitive (Giants-Eagles, Falcons-Lions), while the other two were decided by an average margin of 19 points.

Closing out the night, NBC's "Sunday Night Football" featured Washington's surprising 27-10 blowout of the Oakland Raiders, which had entered the game a three-point road favorite. The lopsided game (the Raiders eked out just 128 total yards to the home team's 472) averaged an 11.6 overnight rating, down 10 percent versus the year-ago Bears-Cowboys broadcast. That game, which was also anticlimactic, adjusted to 20.6 million viewers and a 11.7 household rating in the final live-plus-same-day tally.

All told, Sunday's NFL windows were down 4 precent versus the year-ago overnights. Given that the NFL's top draw, the Dallas Cowboys, will line up against the Arizona Cardinals for tonight's "Monday Night Football" telecast on ESPN, it's likely that the overall Week 3 ratings will be up year-over-year. The last time ESPN carried a Cowboys game was on Dec. 26, 2016. Dallas's 42-21 demolition of the Detroit Lions averaged a season-high 18.6 million viewers and a 10.1 household rating.

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