This Spring, Sean Doolittle, the left-wing, left-handed relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals, said that America doesn’t deserve the “reward” of having spectator sports because Americans didn’t stay on lockdown as long as we should have. Or something.
Deserve them or not, we have spectator sports. All of the ones I follow, and some I no longer do, will be in action this weekend.
It seems, though, that a growing number of Americans are asking whether sports deserve our attention. As we have discussed, both on our blog and in our audio programs, television ratings are way down for the NBA. I suspect this has much to do with the intrusion of politics, especially the expression and display of political slogans all over the place, including on the players’ jerseys. In any case, that’s the reason why, after being an NBA fan for more than 60 years, I’ve tuned the league out.
Some have tried to explain the ratings decline by blaming the pandemic, but this is counter-intuitive. You would expect that, with more time on their hands and fewer options, people would be watching more televised sports, not less. I’ve also noticed that the ratings for MLB telecasts, which contain very little to no political content, seem to be fine.
Television ratings are an imperfect measure of interest, though. People have other ways of watching games. The NBA appeals, in particular, to a young demographic. It’s possible that ratings are down because these fans are now taking advantage of other platforms to consume pro basketball.
Tellingly, however, a Gallup survey finds growing disapproval of the sports industry among the American public. Each year, Gallup surveys Americans on their views regarding 25 major industries. In its latest poll, released this week, professional sports suffered the biggest drop in support of any of the 25 industries, falling to 23rd, not that far above the federal government which came in last. (Farming and agriculture came in first, followed by the grocery industry.)
Professional sports are now viewed unfavorably by 40 percent of Americans, according to the survey, with only 30 percent viewing them favorably.
Last year, sports had a 45 percent favorability rating. But that was before various leagues embraced Black Lives Matter radicalism to one degree or another.
It is notable that sports has lost more support from Republicans and independents than from Democrats. In fact, Democrats’ view of the sports industry has not changed significantly in the past year, while Republicans’ has slipped from a +11 net-positive score in 2019 to a net -35 today, and independents’ from +26 to -10.
As Brad Slager at Red State puts it:
[A]t a time when they should be desperate for all the attention they can draw, the leagues and the players feel it is more important to deliver lectures than to deliver a diversion. And it is becoming more obvious that more fans are not interested in accepting that delivery.
The NFL season started tonight. Roger Goodell, who was wrong on free speech grounds when he tried to curb player expression during the playing of the National Anthem, is now trying to make amends, not on free speech grounds but based on professed sympathy with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Goodell is playing with fire. I hope he reads the Gallup poll numbers and takes them to heart.