NFL Kneeling Controversy and Sports Betting
The ongoing controversy surrounding NFL players taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem has simultaneously contributed to the sport’s declining television ratings and an uptick in betting at online sportsbooks.
Overall viewership was down from 17.6 million viewers in the first three weeks of the 2016 season to 15.8 million viewers this year, according to Nielsen data – that’s a drop of just about 10 percent. Remarks made last Friday by President Donald Trump to the effect that Americans should stop watching the NFL so long as players continued protesting during the national anthem (for which those athletes should be fired, the president said) drew the ire of the media and set off a firestorm on social media. But Trump’s inflammatory comments seemingly had another effect: NFL viewership after the president’s statement was approximately 4 percent less than the week before.
Viewership from casual fans may be less than last year, but betting activity at the leading online sportsbooks hasn’t taken a hit in the slightest. In fact, the biggest of them all, the Latvia-based Bovada.lv, even has a special prop betting line available to perhaps the more cynical sports bettors. Bovada is currently offering -120 odds either way on the over/under if three NFL teams stay in the stocker room during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner during Week 4 of the season. We’ll have to wait and see what happens, but with prominent franchises like the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Tennessee Titans all staying in their respective locker rooms during Week 3, there’s really no telling how many more teams might follow suit.
This special prop bet isn’t likely to draw as many gamblers as, say, the outcome of Thursday night’s much-anticipated NFC showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears or the game between the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens but it does indicate something about the leading sportsbooks. The industry’s top legal offshore betting sites are not feeling the pinch that the NFL organization, the individual teams, the TV companies and even casual fans are going through right now. Sports bettors can always be counted on to place bets at legal betting sites on a good matchup and that means they will at lease tune in long enough to check the score, as opposed to more ideologically motivated viewers would could switch off their TVs in some kind of counter-protest.
The story isn’t solely about ratings and sports betting though, as the stocks of the TV companies that broadcast NFL games are down too. CBS in particular has taken a beating, with its shares dropping 9 percent in the last month, closing at $58 per share at the end of the day Tuesday. Disney, the owner of ESPN, saw its stocks fall in value by 4 percent over the course of the September to close at $98.63 per share, while the stocks of Comcast, the owner of NBC Universal, fell off 6 percent to $37.72 per share. Fox, presumably the president’s favorite network of them all – at least where the news is involved – saw the smallest decrease in stock prices at a 2 percent drop to $26.42 a share.
That said, it is only fair to point out that the NFL’s ratings decline is also due in part to various other factors ranging from an overall decrease among American households with cable or satellite TV subscriptions to the spate of hurricanes threatening the US in recent weeks. However, the president’s remarks and the NFL players (and now coaches) involved in the backlash/protest against perceived race-based injustices against black citizens by law enforcement officers is unquestionably driving much of the downturn in pro football viewership.
Another contributing factor driving the decline in viewership of NFL broadcasts could also be a negative fan reaction to an increased prevalence in cases of the degenerative brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) among prominent deceased football players, presumably due to persistent trauma to the head and neurological system. Notably, former New England Patriots ace Aaron Hernandez was revealed to have had an advanced case of CTE, which can lead to violent outbursts, severe mood swings, erratic behavior and depression. In Hernandez’s case, the 27-year-old killed himself in his prison cell after he was sentenced to life without the possibility for parole for the 2013 murder of semi-pro player Odin Lloyd.
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