SportsPulse: NFL insider Jarrett Bell on how the football world responded to President Trump's comments on national anthem protests, as well as how Week 3 of the season was full of upsets and wild finishes. USA TODAY Sports
President Trump seemingly backed off his call for a boycott of the NFL, a league he's taken aim at since Friday over the response to national anthem protest by players.
"They can do whatever they want," Trump said on Sunday.
Trump's base, however, along with others who take offense to players who take a knee during the anthem — a protest started by then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to call attention to racial inequality and police brutality — took to social media as those protests were carried live by the NFL's broadcast partners.
"We talk to our sponsors all the time whether it's raining or the sun is out. We keep them informed," NFL spokesperson Joe Lockhart said in a conference call with reporters on Monday. "I haven't heard of a single issue from a sponsor who is worried about the issues over the weekend."
But will the protests and the league's response hurt the NFL in the long run?
"The NFL made the worst branding move in the modern history of sports," brand and reputation management expert Eric Schiffer told USA TODAY Sports. "Their move alienates conservatives who view respect for the flag with fervent love. Yet, it’s hypocritical because behind the scenes they were systematically freezing out Kaepernick."
Ratings, something Trump on Sunday said were "way down" because of the protests, were again mixed for Week 3.
Schiffer said he thinks that because the NFL got involved in politics, those ratings will continue to take a hit.
"Trump's comments and tweets forced the NFL to make a political choice. The failure of the NFL to remain neutral is an epic-level insane brand move that will amputate conservative fans precisely when the league is facing ongoing ratings doom," Schiffer said. "Sports is one of the rare spots where the polarity of partisan politics is largely quarantined off, and people can fully unplug. And the demographics of sports and especially NFL viewers are powered by fans of both parties."
CBS's national game window (4:25 pm ET) netted a 13.8 overnight rating and a 27 share, down 1% from Week 3 last year. Fox had a 10.3/22 for its single-header, down about 16%. NBC's Sunday Night Football, saddled with a noncompetitive Washington Redskins-Oakland Raiders game, had an 11.6/20, down about 10% from a year ago.
But CBS and Fox saw a major bump in its pregame coverage, likely attributable to viewers curious to see how teams would respond to Trump.
CBS' THE NFL TODAY netted its best rating and share since 2010 with a 3.2/8, 33% improvement from last year. Fox's 11-noon ET show, Fox NFL Kickoff, had a 1.3/4, a 30% increase over 2016 and it's main pregame show from noon-1 pm ET, Fox NFL Sunday, had a 3.7/10, a 9% jump.
The NFL takes in roughly $1.25 billion annually in endorsements, something that didn't go unnoticed as a year-old petition to boycott sponsors on Change.org began to gain steam. The petition — which has an image of an outdated and impartial list of sponsors — had 5,300 supporters as of Monday afternoon.
Not listed in the petition were two of the league's apparel sponsors: Nike and Under Armour.
“Nike supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society," Nike said in a statement to USA TODAY Sports.
Under Armour put out a statement via Twitter on Saturday that said it "stands for the flag and by our athletes for free speech, expression and a unified America."