Donald Trump has made a lot of noise lately over the Presidential debates going up against NFL games. But maybe it's the NFL that should be worried.
With the odds in this heated Presidential election, at present, shifting in the favor of Hillary Clinton, coverage of this epic clash of personalities – particularly the primetime debates between Clinton and Trump -- will only increase over the next three months.
Robert Russo, President of RNR Media Consulting, who has worked in the political arena for the past 30 years, both on campaigns and as a media seller and buyer, is predicting at least half of the available audience will tune in for the first debate. "Depending on the fireworks in the first one, the next two could get even larger numbers, which will only ignite any outlet covering the election," he said. "These ratings will be also huge internationally."
Cable news, which is reaping the benefits of the increased ratings of late (translation: increased ad dollars), will certainly be on hand with the play-by-play, in addition to the extended coverage of the election. Why waste valuable airtime on other topics of lesser interest when there is an audience hungry for the latest barrage of insults from the Trump and Clinton camps?
Last month, for example, Fox News Channel remained the most-watched cable network, both in prime time and in total day viewers, rising 60% in total day from July 2015. CNN finished second in primetime (and fifth overall in total day), with growth of a staggering 203% in primetime year-to-year. And MSNBC, No. 5 among all cable nets in prime, registered gains of 117% in primetime. Further growth as we head closer to the election is likely to only increase.
Trump, who will certainly not exit quietly if he loses the election, is already squawking about the first two of the upcoming debates facing the NFL. The first of the three will take place on Monday, Sept. 26, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, which is the second Monday of the new television season. Clinton has accepted the official schedule of the trio of debates, but Trump has raised objections for fear of losing any of the audience to football. "It is concerning that the Trump campaign is already engaged in shenanigans around these debates," Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told reporters. "It is not clear if he is trying to avoid these debates, or merely toying with the press to create more drama."
"Since the traditional skew of any football match-up is more male than female, one of Trump’s concerns is Clinton not potentially being as negatively impacted," said Russo. "But nothing will stop this political juggernaut, not even the NFL. And football clearly has more to lose in this scenario."
Billie Gold, VP Director of Programming Research at Amplifi US, notes that this is not the first time a presidential debate has faced the NFL. "In 2012, two debates (a vice presidential debate and the final presidential debate) aired against football, as well as baseball playoff games on TBS and TNT," she said in an email message. "The debates in 2012 as a cume across all the networks carrying it easily beat the sports competition with a net of 51 million viewers overall for the vice presidential debate and 59 million for the presidential debate. But with audiences having to choose between a host of big ‘live-based’ events, they all likely suffered a bit of ratings loss due to increased competition."
Though all Presidential elections provide a certain entertainment value, nothing compares to the Clinton Trump Show, which is, in effect, the most successful "reality" series in modern memory. The fact that it will be peaking just as the broadcast networks are rolling out 20 new primetime series is certainly bad news for the nets. The question is how big a ratings bite the campaigns will really take.
"If Trump falls farther behind in the polls, viewers will likely want to see how far he can drop, not wanting to miss the next instances that send him crashing even further," noted Joanne Burns, Principal, RISE mc. "This will present a tug-of-war for competing broadcast networks launching into the new fall season, as well as NFL games on any given night a debate airs, and possibly the day after a debate as the pundits have their own debate review of the latest events."
RNR’s Robert Russo, however, has no concerns of this election having any real permanent damage on the fall television season. "Ratings on the cable news networks always swell during a Presidential campaign, and this one in particular has huge momentum. But when all is said and done, they will still not compare to the broadcast networks on the whole."
"If there is any drop-off in viewership amongst the new network shows as the season progresses, I would consider that just natural attrition which usually happens with news shows," added Gold.