NFL ratings have declined this fall. So, in concert, has a lot of ancillary sports programming. That trend worries most of the sports media. Incomes, directly or indirectly, depend on consistent, fanatic consumption of NFL football.
Declining NFL play quality is a cute narrative, that has been around for 25 years. The presidential election is the simple, obvious culprit. I’ve written how polarization and the spectre cum spectacle of Donald Trump are siphoning viewers away from sports. People are talking about politics. People are posting on social media about politics. Roused by real life, people have little energy for trite, concocted sports drama.
I write for a sports website. But, I’m here to confess. I have become one of these “people.” It happened slowly, almost imperceptibly. But, I am a politics fan.
This has been neither comprehensive nor cold turkey. I’m as invested as I ever was in college football season. I want to credit the sport’s inherent awesomeness and my passion for the University of Michigan. But, writing about it being my job doubtless plays some role. And, if I’m being candid, I have not paid that much attention to Michigan’s incoming recruiting class.
Other sports interests flagging is normal for me this time of year. Saturday is a slog for me. There’s a refractory period. I need some outside life. It’s the time of year where I miss a Red Wings game or four and forget what weeks the Champions League group stage is on.
I was interested in politics before. But, I’ve noticed a distinctive change this election cycle. Politics is what I’m talking about in person (once preliminary conversation feelers reveal no Trump voters). Politics is what I’m commenting on and sharing links to at my digital water coolers.
My first and most frequent website stops are FiveThirty Eight and the New York Times. I’m following political reporters. My podcast consumption has gone almost full on politics, with a few exceptions (Solid Verbal, Football Weekly).
I try to keep my reading, mostly fiction/literature and history, distinct from my Internet-ing. Though, it was John Dickerson’s “Whistlestop” that found it’s way through the sieve this summer, instead of the odd sports book.
Relative NFL play quality has gone unnoticed by me, because I have watched about an hour or two of it this season. My greatest exposure has been others griping on Thursday nights, while I’m trying to watch college football. Odell Beckham Jr. is upsetting folks? People are cool with Matthew Stafford now?
Sorry, Dane Cook, but I checked out on MLB’s “OcTOber” after my preferred logo and laundry set was eliminated. I’m dimly aware I’m supposed to talk myself into the 73-9 Warriors adding one of the league’s top three or four players being an impending disaster, but am unsure why.
I’ve cleared my schedule three times for appointment viewing the past month, for three presidential debates. My first stop on demand: John Oliver. I’m not flocking to cable news networks like a fiend. I didn’t watch five hours of debate pregame. But, my background viewing of choice is less likely to be ESPN.
Maybe this confession should embarrass me, or call my sports fandom into question. But, judging from my Twitter feed, I’m hardly alone. Last night offered an NFL game, a decent enough Miami vs. Virginia Tech college football game, and MLB playoffs concurrently. Much of my timeline was breaking down crowd reaction at the Al Smith dinner.
Sports’ biggest story the past few months is Colin Kaepernick’s flag protest, which had little to do with sports.
The election ends in a matter of weeks. Blood pressures will lower. Flames will be doused. Metaphorical torches and pitchforks, one hopes, will be cast aside. Alt-Right conspiracy peddling will retreat to Trump TV and less savory corners of the Internet.
Do we all go back to having strong opinions about LeBron? Or caring that someone else does?