It’s an ongoing debate in the sports media world this fall: Why are ratings down?
Viewership of the 2020 NBA Finals on ESPN was down 51% overall from last year; Game 3 was the lowest-rated NBA Finals Game 3 on record. The NHL Stanley Cup Finals on NBC were down 61% from last year. In baseball, the 2020 ALCS on TBS and NLCS on Fox were down 30% overall (least-watched ALCS on record), and the World Series on Fox was the least-watched in history, down 32% from the previous low. The 2020 Kentucky Derby on NBC was down 49% from last year, and the U.S. Open tennis tournament (men’s and women’s) on ESPN was down 50% from last year.
Even the reliable ratings juggernaut NFL was down 12% through the first five weeks of its season. (The 2020 WNBA season was an exception, up 15% from last year; NASCAR ratings are down just 1% from last year.)
Whatever the cause of the broad decline, if you ask former NFL player turned Fox Sports host Emmanuel Acho, it’s a good thing.
“There are bigger things going on than sports right now,” said Acho in an interview at Yahoo Finance’s virtual All Markets Summit on Monday. “I'm glad sports are down. And I'm a sports guy. You can cut this for my bosses, for the world to see. There's a presidential election going on. There's a pandemic going on. I would hope to God that a game—which all sports are, is a game—are less important than lives. So when people are like, ‘Oh, sports are down,’ I'm like, bravo. Because at least that shows me that we have our priorities right in this country. Sports will pick back up. They always do.”
Acho, who played college football at the University of Texas and three seasons in the NFL, left ESPN this year to join Fox Sports as cohost of the studio show “Speak For Yourself.” But he has arguably become far more widely known, since June, for his web series “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man.”
The series has racked up more than 70 million views, as Acho has scored sit-downs with high-profile guests like Matthew McConaughey and Chip and Joanna Gaines for candid conversations about race. His book, with the same title as the series, publishes on Nov. 10 under Oprah Winfrey’s imprint at Macmillan.
Most notably, Acho got NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to sit for a lengthy discussion on the player protests that Colin Kaepernick started, the NFL’s initial handling of the protests, and Goodell’s own views on players speaking out on social justice.
In Acho’s view, the NFL has more of a responsibility to spur social change in America than any of the other pro sports leagues.
Why? “Because to whom much is given, much is required,” Acho told Yahoo Finance. “The NFL literally owns one day of the week... You have to do more. Intention without direction is worthless. The NFL has great intention. Now it needs to figure out what is its direction, right? I didn't love the intention of playing the Black national anthem. That's not going to do anything. Personally, as a Black man, in my opinion, it's not going to do anything. Sooner or later, we have to go from names on the back of helmets and names on the front of helmets of lost and murdered people, and people who have suffered from police brutality, to ensuring it doesn't happen again.”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.