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Sunday Night Football vs. presidential debate: Who will come out on top?


“It’s always good to know what the competition is.”

FARMVILLE, VA - OCTOBER 04: Last minute preparations are made inside Willett Hall before the vice presidential debate at Longwood University October 4, 2016 in Farmville, Virginia. Vice presidential nominees Republican Mike Pence and Democrat Tim Kaine will engage in their only debate during the 2016 election. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This Sunday night will be all about competition: The New York Giants head to Green Bay to take on the Packers, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton goes up against her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

But the contests won't just play out on the field and the stage — they'll also take place on the airwaves. The second 2016 presidential debate and Sunday Night Football will be in direct competition for American eyeballs.

Monitors at the sound board display the debate logo during a rehearsal for the first U.S. presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. (Getty Images/Drew Angerer)

If social media — with its special hashtags and emojis — is any indicator, the presidential debate might come out on top this weekend, but the NFL can still hold its own.

The first 2016 presidential debate fell on Monday, Sept. 26, as the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints faced off for Monday Night Football. That night, MNF was mentioned more than 76,000 times on Twitter. The most mentions accrued during the 9 p.m. EDT hour — as the debate kicked off — with more than 14,000 mentions, according to data compiled by the social media monitoring company Brandwatch.

Monday Night Football’s hashtag, #ATLvsNO, registered an additional 37,000 mentions, Brandwatch found.

In comparison, GOP nominee Trump was mentioned more than 1.8 million times on Twitter during the debate — from 9 p.m.-10:39 p.m. EDT. And Clinton registered more than 1.2 million Twitter mentions during that same time, Brandwatch found.

Despite the debate, however, Monday Night Football had a greater social media footprint that night than it did the following week during the Minnesota Vikings and Giants game, when MNF was mentioned only 44,000 times on Twitter, peaking during the 8 p.m. hour.

Image provided to TheBlaze

“The debate certainly didn’t take away from the Monday Night conversation on Sept. 26,” Kellan Terry, a data analyst for Brandwatch, told TheBlaze. “And the volumes of each candidate from the first presidential debate were larger than any we saw in the primary season or vice presidential debate this week.”

For the first presidential debate, ad buyers predicted the debate would take a chunk out of the NFL’s ratings — which are already in a slump this year — especially as the game was carried on ESPN. But those ad buyers told the Wall Street Journal that the Sunday Night Football game will be a better bet for ratings because it showcases two more popular teams.

Andy Donchin, chief investment officer for Amplifi US, a global media agency, contends that the NFL is a “strong league” and described the lower ratings as an anomaly. “A lot of things out there have contributed to [the lower ratings]," he told TheBlaze. “Obviously the election, teams thought to be good that started their season out not that great.”

Plus, Donchin added, “People have already seen the first debate," also noting that this week’s game features two “higher, key” teams.

Terry, too, speculated that the NFL might not be hit too hard in ratings by the presidential debate as Americans have already solidified their candidate of choice.

Another factor to consider this weekend is streaming, both Terry and Donchin mentioned. Thanks to tablets, smartphones and a variety of other platforms, Americans have the ability to watch more than one event at a time and can tune in to both the game and the debate.

[sharequote="center"]"It’s always good to know what the competition is."[/sharequote]

“Streaming is an important influence on what’s going on out there, and definitely figures into the equation,” Donchin said.

But Chris Murphy, director of political sales support for Tallahassee's WTWC-TV told TheBlaze that the two events can “detract” from an overall viewership.

“It detracts from the overall viewing audience by taking away a big 4 network from airing the debate,” Murphy said.

In his market, the football game will show on the local NBC affiliate while the debate will air on the local Fox affiliate.

“I don’t understand why these debates are on the weekend rather than the week where there’s higher viewership and visibility,” he said.

Donchin said it would be “smart” of the Commission on Presidential Debates to look not just at the NFL’s schedule but other larger events as well when planning debates.

“It’s always good to know what the competition is,” he said.

So what will you be watching on Sunday night?

Follow Kaitlyn Schallhorn (@K_Schallhorn) on Twitter

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