Yeah I'm skeptical. I would bet that the poll is measuring "hey people who still watch the NFL, why are other people not watching as much?" And the people who still care about the NFL are like "Its the protests!"
I'd be more interested in asking "hey people who used to watch but now don't pay attention, why did you turn the TV off?" I think the people who genuinely watched a lot of games and then suddenly turned them off because someone kneeled in a part of the pre-game part that no one really watches anyway is very small.
I'd be willing to bet it has a lot more to do with:
- Continued fractionation of all media consumption
- Dilution/saturation (I'm busy, can I really watch THurs, Sun x 3-4, Mon?)
- Non-protest social - Am I (or my kids) supposed to idolize Josh Brown, Ray Rice, Vick, Roethlisberger, Ray Lewis, etc?
- Concussions; hard to rationalize watching people do something I wouldn't let my kids do
- Big names suspended for wrong and arbitrary reasons (Brady, obvs)
- Worse teams. Maybe its shorter preseason. Maybe more practice restrictions. I tend to think it is a direct consequence of the entire goal of the CBA. The league wanted parity, it is getting it. It makes it harder to keep that veteran piece; not necessarily the big time WR, but that 4th Guard, that blocking TE, that sub-package DE, etc. And you have to replace that with more CBA-friendly young, athletic, but inexperienced, don't-know-the-system as well guys. This makes sloppier play, and brings elite teams more toward the middle each year. It's what the league wanted, apparently, but for TV ratings probably not good. It's actually better for national TV ratings to have Packer, Cowboys, Giants, Seahawks, Steelers, Bengals, Colts, Pats beating up on everyone else, then basically binging on the sunday afternoon channel surfing games then being able to see some combination of the above teams on Sunday night and Monday night. But now we water down even those teams, add a Thurs and a Sunday Morning game...too much mediocrity on a national scale.