'Monday Night Football': Cowboys Kneeling Didn't Seem to Hurt TV Rating

Donald Trump tweeted an amendment to his usual statements about falling NFL television ratings early on Tuesday morning, noting the trend of pregame show audiences rising in line with the conjecture over whether, and which, players will kneel during the national anthem.

"Ratings for NFL football are way down except before game starts, when people tune in to see whether or not our country will be disrespected!" Trump wrote.

There was certainly huge interest in the preamble to Monday Night Football, when the Dallas Cowboys travelled to the Arizona Cardinals. In the end, Jerry Jones and the Cowboys knelt briefly before the anthem before standing to acknowledge it, linking arms with the Cardinals at the same time in what ESPN called a "unity statement." Trump tweeted on Sunday that standing arm-in-arm during the anthem was acceptable. "Great solidarity for our National Anthem and for our Country. Standing with locked arms is good, kneeling is not acceptable. Bad ratings!" He wrote.

As it turned out, television ratings for the Cowboys' 28-17 victory over the Cardinals rose 63 percent on the same date last year, when the Atlanta Falcons visited the New Orleans Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. ESPN reported on Tuesday that Nielsen measured a 9.3 overnight rating for the game, peaking at 10.3 between 9:15 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. ET.

There are a couple of major reasons for this that have little to do with interest in, or displeasure at, the current player protests. The Saints-Falcons game took place on the same night as the first Presidential debate between Trump and Hillary Clinton at Hofstra University in New York. The Cowboys, meanwhile, are a consistent ratings monster capable of bucking trends and forces that would negatively affect smaller markets and teams.

Trump, for his part, seemed satisfied with the way the Cowboys had conducted their protest. After praising the "great anger" of the University of Phoenix crowd for booing while the Cowboys knelt, Trump tweeted, "But while Dallas dropped to its knees as a team, they all stood up for our National Anthem. Big progress being made—we all love our country!"

While ratings fluctuated between the major television networks on Sunday—CBS saw an improvement for the Packers-Bengals game while Fox and NBC experienced dips—the popularity and notoriety of the Cowboys ensured Monday's rating held up for ESPN. Next weekend's games will shed a little more light on if, and how, the protests are going to affect NFL television audiences in the long-term.