NEW YORK – When the Dallas Cowboys — known as America’s team — took a knee before the national anthem and then beat the Arizona Cardinals, they provided the strongest evidence yet that President Donald Trump can’t keep fans away from football.
ESPN said overnight ratings rose 63 percent from a year earlier for “Monday Night Football.” Ratings for Monday’s game were helped by a favorable comparison to last year, when the game competed for attention with a presidential debate.
While audiences shrank Sunday for NBC and Fox, the viewership boost from the Cowboys, one of the league’s most popular teams, helped lift NFL ratings out of an early-season ratings slump. NFL viewership had been down in the first two weeks of this season.
Overnight ratings for all Sunday and Monday NFL games were up 3 percent as a whole, Michael Mulvihill, executive vice president of research at Fox Sports, tweeted Tuesday.
On Tuesday morning, Trump continued his attacks against the league, tweeting that NFL ratings “are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected.” He added that fans booing when the Cowboys took a knee on Monday night “was loudest I have ever heard.”
The president’s criticism of NFL players for protesting during the national anthem may have paradoxically revived interest in the league. Fans were switching off games because of too-frequent penalties and commercial breaks, head injuries and the player protests.
Over the weekend, Trump said owners should fire players who protested. The practice of kneeling during the national anthem was started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as a protest over police brutality and mistreatment of African-Americans.
The Cowboys, with owner Jerry Jones, kneeled just before singer Jordin Sparks’s rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” then stood with arms locked along with the Cardinals.