A USA Today analysis of the drop in NFL television ratings during the 2016 and 2017 seasons found attacks by United States President Donald Trump against the league had a "weak" impact on the decline.
On Tuesday, Matt Wynn and John Kelly reported viewers were more driven to tune out because of football reasons, noting "quality football and home team loyalty drove the TV audience far more than political tribalism."
Trump has taken aim at the NFL on multiple occasions for its handling of players kneeling during the U.S. national anthem to protest racial injustice.
Last September, he suggested owners should fire any player who knelt during the anthem and argued the move would have a positive impact, per Sophie Tatum of CNN.
"For a week, (that owner would) be the most popular person in this country. Because that's a total disrespect of our heritage. That's a total disrespect for everything we stand for," Trump said.
His attacks continued last month when the league opened its 2018 season:
Donald J. Trump @realDonaldTrump
Wow, NFL first game ratings are way down over an already really bad last year comparison. Viewership declined 13%, the lowest in over a decade. If the players stood proudly for our Flag and Anthem, and it is all shown on broadcast, maybe ratings could come back? Otherwise worse!
Trump's criticism has slowed as NFL ratings bounced back in recent weeks, and the USA Today investigation found little correlation between his comments and the TV numbers even when they were on a downward trajectory over the previous two years.
Counties that voted for Trump during the 2016 election by a margin of 10 points or more saw a one percent decrease in NFL ratings from 2016 to 2017. Counties that voted for opponent Hillary Clinton by the same threshold remained stagnant, while toss-up counties saw a one percent decline, per USA Today.
By contrast, the decline is more prominent when you view it through a football lens.
The Indianapolis market declined 21 percent because of the Colts' struggles during their 4-12 campaign last year, according to USA Today. Multiple media markets covering the Cowboys also saw serious drops with Oklahoma City and Little Rock down over 20 percent. Dallas itself dropped six percent.
All things considered, the USA Today report concluded Trump's attacks had a minimal influence on fans' viewing habits, and his stance was "erased by football" in markets where the home team was able to showcase a winning on-field product.