Remember the National Football League? According to some skillful reporting from Felix Gillette for Bloomberg, lots of people don’t. While the league is signed onto a TV deal worth many billions, broadcast ratings are in the toilet, with Monday Night Football ratings down 20 percent. Game attendance is down half a percent, and Major League Soccer is selling more licensed goods.
Why the decline? Could be the lack of stars, the lackluster games, or the bluster stirred up by Colin Kaepernick’s protest. Or — plot twist — it could be this season’s most tantalizing, brutalizing competition: the presidential election. Gillette reports on an internal memo among NFL owners, who attributed the ratings drop “to ‘unprecedented interest’” in the presidential race.
It’s a sign of the times: According to a Bloomberg search of earnings-call transcripts, more than 500 corporations have blamed their shoddy performances on the presidential horse race or variations upon the theme of “political uncertainty.”
It’s a corporate example of a key psychological principle for understanding how individuals view their lives: locus of control. Everybody falls somewhere on the gradient of having an interior or exterior locus — meaning, respectively, that they either think the events of their lives flow out of their own actions or that their fates are dictated by outside, perhaps unseen, forces: a deity, karma, destiny. Or, in the case of blame-gaming corporations: the weather, celebrities, or the presidency. The interior locus is the one you want, since it predicts academic success, coping with stress, and tackling goals. To have an interior locus is to believe yourself to be the author of your life; to have an exterior one is to think it’s someone else’s work. It’s how, at a worldview level, you place responsibility. Fittingly and frustratingly, it’s similar to when Trump is saying that the political system or the Emmys is “rigged” — it couldn’t be that his grotesque rhetoric or behavior is pushing voters away. It’s some outside, unseen force.