Unpacking the silliness that is the NFL schedule and Presidential debates

I understand the facts should never get in the way of a good narrative, particularly in a Presidential campaign, but the idea of moving debates to accommodate NFL football games is so absurd, it necessitates further context.

On the excellent Reliable Sources yesterday, a Trump campaign spokesperson told Brian Stelter:

“We would like the debates to not be head-to-head against major NFL games. That’s something we’ll be discussing as we go into negotiations,” Miller said. “We think it’s only right that as many people are able to watch the debates as possible.”
Image taken from Reliable Sources email newsletter

Calling a Week 3 game between two teams (Atlanta & New Orleans) which did not make last year’s playoff “major” is silly. Further, the Trump mouthpiece erroneously states “the first debate is coming up head-to-head against Monday Night Football. It’s a Falcons home game. Georgia an important state.” Actually, the Falcons are on the road — in Louisiana for that game. But why let facts ruin the narrative.

Speaking of which, the 2015 season Week 3 MNF game between Kansas City and Green Bay (two teams which DID make the playoffs) drew the lowest rating of any NFL national broadcast to that point in the season! The inference that the first debate would lose audience to the Falcons-Saints MNF seems far-fetched. If anything, Monday night is the best night to go head-to-head with the NFL as last season’s ratings represented an historic low viewership, according to Sports Media Watch. Fewer people watching MNF = more people to watch the debate.

Ratings were the lowest for Monday Night Football since 2008 (7.6) and viewership was the lowest since 2012 (12.8M). Overall, this season ranks as the third-lowest rated and fifth-least watched in MNF history.

I suspect the NFL loves the idea that somehow public viewing of its games is so ingrained in our society that it will take audience from a presidential debate. Ever since Congress provided the NFL (and other professional leagues) an exemption to anti-trust laws in the early 1960s, politicians have sought to align themselves positively with the NFL, whether that manifests itself in stadium financing, media rights, or, apparently, presidential debates.

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