Sports | March 31, 2021 2:05 pm

Fans Are Watching Less Sports Due to Social Justice Messaging

A poll found 34% of respondents said they are watching less due to calls for racial justice from sports figures

Members of the Los Angeles Rams kneel during the national anthem
Members of the Los Angeles Rams kneel during the national anthem before a playoff game.
Dylan Buell/Getty

Turned off by calls for racial equality from athletes and social justice messaging during TV broadcasts, many American sports fans are tuning out.

At least that’s the conclusion of a new YouGov/Yahoo News poll that found 34.5% of typical sports viewers are watching less due to increased messages of social justice and political advocacy.

The vast majority of respondents, about 56.3%, said they are watching about the same amount of sports regardless of political or social messaging, and about 11% said they are watching more. The survey polled “a nationally representative sample” of 1,606 adults online between March 22-25 of this year. 

Unsurprisingly, the responses were split down political lines with only 19% of Democrats reporting they watched less sports compared to the 53% of Republican respondents that said their sports viewing had declined. Independents were somewhere in the middle with about 38.6% saying they watched less.

While the prevailing theory is that ratings were down across the board for all major sports in 2020 due to coverage of the election and the shift of the sporting calendars thanks to the pandemic, the findings of the poll indicate that calls for social justice may have had an impact.

Interestingly enough, TV viewership of the PGA Tour on the Golf Channel and NBC is up 24% year-over-year with eight of 10 events on those networks delivering audience increases in 2021 compared to 2020. Given the poll results, it certainly seems possible that the relatively small amount of social justice messaging in pro golf may have not only helped the sport retain fans but also resulted in new viewers tuning in.

If the poll results are correct, many fans who may have watched the Team USA trials this spring and summer will tune them out thanks to a new ruling from the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee that will allow social and racial justice demonstrations such as raised fists on the podium and kneeling during the national anthem. Those sorts of demonstrations are forbidden by the International Olympic Committee and are banned at the Tokyo Olympics.