An average of 15.1 million people watched NFL games on television through week seven, Oct. 22 and Oct. 23, of the 2017 season, amounting to a 5.1 percent decline since the same period in 2016 and an 18.7 percent drop from 2015.
A number of possible reasons for the downward trend have been noted, including reports that Colin Kaepernick, who was the first player to protest during the national anthem in 2016, has been blacklisted from the league, according to Sporting News.
Another potential explanation is anger among some fans at the ongoing protests by NFL players. More than 20 players either took a knee, raised their fist, linked arms or remained in the tunnel during the national anthem in week seven to protest social inequality and police violence.
One further suggestion noted by Sporting News is frustration among fans that the league is becoming politicized. In September, President Donald Trump stated that players who protest during the Star Spangled Banner should be fired.
According to an HBO/Marist poll released on Oct. 24, 68 percent of Americans believe Trump "did the wrong thing" when he suggested players should be fired, while 28 percent thought he did the right thing, The Hill reports.
Fifty-one percent of respondents said sports leagues should not require players to stand during the anthem, up from 43 percent in September 2016. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said the league will not establish such a rule.
In a tweet after week seven's games, Trump wrote on Oct. 23 that the NFL has "no leadership" in response to the protests, CBS Sports reports.
The television networks refused to show the protests during the latest round of games, and did not refer to them either, Sporting News notes.
Kaepernick is engaged in a grievance case against the NFL and all of its 32 teams, accusing them of conspiring to keep him out of the league. The quarterback’s grievance letter alleges that Trump acted as a go-between for NFL owners to ensure Kaepernick was kept out of a job, Slate reports.
Kaepernick’s legal team has also pointed to the Miami Dolphins, which hired a quarterback who had played only one professional game after the team's regular quarterback suffered an injury.
"NFL teams who ran offensive systems favorable to Mr. Kaepernick's style of play instead employed retired quarterbacks or quarterbacks who had not played in a regular season game in years, and signed them to significant contracts while prohibiting Mr. Kaepernick from even trying out or interviewing for those jobs," Kaepernick's legal team wrote, according to Slate.