We’re just over a month into the NFL season and one of the biggest stories has been ratings.
Despite a rebound in performance against last Sunday’s debate, the NFL’s ratings are down 10 percent from a season ago. Analysts are trotting out any number of explanations from cord cutting to streaming on Twitter to a busy calendar year involving the election and the Olympics.
Whatever the cause, it’s clear that commissioner Roger Goodell, his owners and the league’s network partners won’t tolerate any harm to what was once considered its invincible golden goose. Live sports and the TV rights money it generates is the lifeblood of the whole operation and the tide needs to be reversed.
With that in mind, here are five things the league should do to improve their lot on television:
Get rid of the Thursday games: Does anyone like the Thursday night games? As far as I can tell, the only reason they exist is to anger you when you realize you didn’t get your fantasy lineup set in time. Players hate the short weeks involved with these games and fans are indifferent to them, at best. Last week’s game between Arizona and San Francisco featured ratings that were 20 percent off the same content from 2015.
It’s easier said than done, of course. The NFL is making about $45 million per game from NBC and CBS over the life of the deal and that’s not anything to sneeze at. The deal, however, expires after the 2017 season so the NFL should go back to the drawing board because it’s obviously a subpar product and perhaps it dilutes the interest in the Sunday and Monday night games. When Mark Cuban made his remark about hogs getting “slaughtered,” this package was the first that came to mind.
Improve the quality of the games: There were 17 nationally televised games over the first five weeks of the season and each was settled by an average of 12.5 points. Not exactly the type of excitement that’s going to beat out a night of Netflix and chill or video games or even the league’s many competitors in the live sports sphere. A lot has been made about the league’s move toward employing younger and cheaper players instead of veterans and it’s showing in the product. There are 3-4 elite teams, a huge mushy middle of mediocrity and 6-7 bad teams. It’s hard to maintain quality when you’re broadcasting nationally three nights a week.
Improve the quality of the broadcast: Anyone else feel like each NFL broadcast hasn’t changed since around 1998? Same announcers, same music, same camera angles, same graphics. They all combine to give off a sameness of experience. A game broadcast from Jacksonville is the same as one from Seattle.
Compare that to a typical college broadcast which does a much better job of capturing the atmosphere from the players to the fans to the uniqueness of each setting. This difference really stood out to me while watching the Wisconsin-LSU game at Lambeau earlier this year. During that game, I saw angles of Lambeau I’d never seen before and the place just seemed like it was on tilt. Having been to Lambeau for plenty of Packers games, I know that their fans get loud. It just doesn’t come across on TV.
Get local announcers: It still blows my mind that each game is called by a pair of impartial national announcers who may or may not know a lot about the teams involved. For the Sunday regional games, why not employ local announcers for each team and broadcast the local view? Not only would it improve the quality of the commentary, it’d also inject a depth of passion into the broadcast that’s just missing when you’ve got Kenny Albert or Sam Rosen or whoever on the mike.
5. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em: A lot of the blame for this year’s ratings is being placed on the election. So why doesn’t the NFL stage one of their own? Roger Goodell vs. Donald Trump for commissioner of the league.
OK, so I’m only kidding (sort of).
But tell me you wouldn’t tune in for a halftime debate between those two …
How would you improve the NFL’s broadcasts?
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