The biggest subject of the NFL’s first six weeks might not be the Dallas Cowboys’ great start or Matt Ryan’s unlikely resurgence or the league’s return to Los Angeles.
It’s probably the dip in television ratings.
Some of it is an overreaction. Ratings are down, but the NFL still pulls in television ratings that blow away every other sports league. The ratings had to reach an apex and drop at some point, especially with the way people consume media in a more diverse way. The NFL is a prisoner of its own success in the television ratings debate.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t sound freaked out.
“We don’t think we’ve lost viewers,” Goodell said, according to USA Today’s partial transcript of his press conference fat the owners’ meetings. “When you look at ratings, you have to look a little deeper than that. It’s viewers, but also how long they’re engaging for. A lot of times, people will leave a game for whatever reason.”
Claiming to not lose viewers seems a little too optimistic, but part of Goodell’s job is to put on a happy face. He did have valid reasons for the decline. Two prime-time games went against presidential debates. Another prime-time game was exclusively on NFL Network, which is bound to get lower ratings. Some prime-time games haven’t been close from wire to wire, which causes viewers to turn it off.
One thing Goodell refused to cite as a reason was the national anthem protests by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others.
“We don’t think that’s a factor and neither do our network partners,” Goodell said, according to USA Today.
The NFL has tried to stay ahead of the changing media landscape, Goodell said. He cited projects with Snapchat, YouTube and Yahoo, according to Conor Orr of NFL.com. Yahoo streamed a game live last season; this season most Thursday night games have been streamed on Twitter. It’s a new era. No longer are a majority of Americans watching a broadcast of a game from beginning to end on their televisions.
It’s not like the NFL shouldn’t take some blame in the ratings decrease, however. The league might be trying to work to stay ahead of the media curve in an age of cord cutting, but it’s behind in other ways. Like its stance on gambling.
“There clearly has been a society shift as far as how people view gambling,” Goodell said, according to USA Today. “We are still very much opposed to legalized gambling on sports. We think that has an impact on the integrity of our game.”
That seems to be one reason the Raiders’ desired move to Las Vegas is still met with some skepticism by Goodell (“There’s still a great deal of information that we need to gather with respect to the circumstances we see in Las Vegas in the opportunities and also the challenge,” he said).
The league’s on-field product has also been criticized, and perhaps it has dipped due to decreased practice time, per the latest collective-bargaining agreement. Practice time is something Goodell figures the NFL and NFLPA will revisit in the next CBA.
“That undoubtedly will come up,” Goodell said.
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