As NFL viewership ratings tumbled to a season-low on Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that next week team owners plan to discuss the policy on standing for the national anthem.
Fewer Americans watched the “Monday Night Football” game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins on Oct. 9 than any other regular-season NFL game this year, Deadline reported.
The league, the owners, and ESPN have plenty to be concerned about as NFL ratings have declined steadily since last year. In 2016, owners blamed one of the most watched presidential campaigns, but viewership didn’t pick up this year and the league image took a hard hit after a wave of national anthem protests.
Now a league spokesman says that owners are set to meet next week and the policy on standing for the national anthem is “front and center” on their agenda. The owners will consider the players’ input, but a rule change would not require player approval, The Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Futterman reported.
“I don’t believe that the anthem per se is something that needs to be collectively bargained,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
The news of a rule change for the national anthem ceremony comes after weeks of criticism from President Donald Trump, who triggered a wave of protests by NFL players by saying that those who don’t stand for the national anthem should be fired.
More than 180 players knelt during the performance of the “Star-Spangled Banner” on the Sunday after Trump’s comments, but the president did not back down.
The controversy, jump-started by Trump, does not fare well for the league’s image. Winston Poll found that the NFL became the least liked major league in America. In the strongest indication of the league’s disconnect from its audience, favorability ratings among its core fans, males aged 34-54, dropped 31 percent from late August to late September.
The NFL player manual states that players should stand for the anthem but does not say they must.
National Football League Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told The Wall Street Journal that league officials promised the association that there would be no punishment for protesting during the anthem.
News of the rule-change discussion also landed shortly after Trump threatened to hit the NFL in the wallet by going after its tax breaks.
“Why is the NFL getting massive tax breaks while at the same time disrespecting our Anthem, Flag and Country?” Trump wrote on Twitter.
Lockhart said that the NFL gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015. He added that many stadiums are built using tax-exempt bonds, but stressed that the arrangement spurs economic development.
President Trump and the White House did not provide clarity on the tax breaks question.
If a rule is approved, players who disrespect the national anthem may face fines.