Sunday Night Football’s Al Michaels did not hold back when asked how President Trump impacted the anthem protests controversy in the NFL. Nor did he think twice about blaming those same anthem protests, in part, for hurting the league’s ratings.
In an interview with Philly.com’s Rob Tornoe, Michaels was given free rein to do something he normally doesn’t do when calling the games for Sunday Night Football: Give an opinion on a controversial political subject.
Michaels and Tornoe spent much of the interview dealing with the issue of anthem protests.
So far this season, ratings for Sunday Night Football are down 8 percent compared to last year, according to Sports Business Daily’s Austin Karp. Despite the decline, Sunday Night Football remains the most-watched program in primetime.
“It’s number one and it’s getting bashed because the ratings are down,” Michaels said. “Two or three years ago, the ratings were so spectacular that there had to be a little bit of a diminishment at some point.”
Michaels cited players’ protests against racial injustice during the national anthem as one of a myriad reasons ratings might be down. His comments echo remarks made by NBCUniversal advertising executive Linda Yaccarino, who noted earlier this month that she thinks the protests have affected the ratings. Yaccarino also said “a list of advertisers” have made it clear they’ll pull out of Sunday Night Football if the broadcast continues to cover protests.
Michaels said it felt like tension over the protests was starting cooling down, until President Trump weighed in during a September rally in Huntsville, Ala., where he called on NFL owners to fire players who decided to protest while the national anthem was being played.
“Once the president made those remarks in Alabama, at that particular point it was like throwing a match into a gas tank,” Michaels said. “During the off-season, both sides just have to sit down and figure out a way to make this a situation where it doesn’t overwhelm the conversation about the NFL.”
This seems like the essence of a reasonable opinion. Michaels correctly appraises the situation before and after President Trump’s statements in Alabama. He correctly lays some of the blame for the NFL’s ratings decline on the anthem protests, without saying the protests are the sole reason for the decline. And Michaels also makes a good point in saying that some of the ratings loss is the result of an industry market correction.
Though, perhaps Michaels finest point came when he described the problem now facing the NFL. That being, the problem of addressing the anthem issue without letting it become the issue that defines the NFL.
Michaels is one of the few Republican members of the sports media. Though, unlike non-Republican members of the sports media, Michaels doesn’t often talk politics on the air.