There are no presidential debates to blame for the NFL television ratings drop this time.
The NFL’s ratings were down from Week 1 last season. We already knew the ratings for the Thursday night opener were down. The Kansas City Chiefs’ upset over the New England Patriots drew a 14.6 rating, down 11.5 percent from last season. Then on Sunday, CBS’ regional games were down 17 percent, Fox’s regional games were down 28 percent, and the Fox’s Sunday afternoon national game dipped 17 percent, according to Yahoo Finance.
The first and second games of the “Monday Night Football” doubleheader were down 12.5 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Get ready for another year of doomsday stories about the NFL. Let’s look at the reasons being discussed for the dip:
• We have a strange scenario in which two groups are taking credit for the drop: The side that is boycotting because it thinks Colin Kaepernick disrespected everyone by kneeling for the national anthem, and the side that thinks the NFL is blackballing Kaepernick and is boycotting for that reason. These sides couldn’t be on more opposite ends, and they’re both leading boycotts of the NFL. The NFL didn’t make an NBA-style rule about standing during the anthem, and it’s probably too late now. And the league can’t force a team to sign Kaepernick. No matter what the NFL does now, they’ll alienate one of those aforementioned sides. By doing nothing, both sides will continue to complain non-stop about the NFL.
• You have to account for “Sunday Night Football” ratings going up. According to NBC Sports, ratings for the Cowboys-Giants game was up 5 percent over last season’s Sunday night opener. It drew a monster audience of 24.2 million viewers.
When you hear about college football’s ratings going up, keep in mind that its marquee prime-time game of Ohio State-Oklahoma did 8.1 million viewers according to Sports Media Watch, about one-third of the NFL’s top game (which was played without perhaps the biggest star on either team, Giants receiver Odell Beckham). No other college game last weekend did more than 4.1 million. Remember that the league still does circles around any other sports league when it comes to TV ratings. It’s worth noting.
Coverage of the NFL is unusual. The league set an impossibly high bar with TV ratings, then people report breathlessly on how it’s down while rarely mentioning it still laps ahead of every other sport. But, everyone wants to see the king get knocked off the throne.
• The NFL is probably dealing with some fatigue issues. The league has positioned itself to dominate the news cycle no matter what. Perhaps that’s a good thing. Maybe there’s a breaking point. An example: In 2018, the NFL has decided that its first week of free agency will overlap the beginning of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, an event that is as universally popular and beloved as any in sports. The NFL can’t cede the spotlight to anyone or anything, not even March Madness. Also, the NFL draft now needlessly stretches over three days, when the NBA and NHL playoffs and Major League Baseball is going on. The NFL likes attention, and maybe there’s a backlash to that.
• The NFL, in its quest to investigate players for domestic violence, has caused that to overshadow the games. In the past week, the NFLPA and NFL have made maneuvers in court to drag out the Ezekiel Elliott domestic violence suspension, which was dragged out to begin with. The same thing happened with Tom Brady and the ridiculous deflate-gate case. Instead of letting it go, a court battle over a player suspension in a domestic violence allegation is going to be regularly in the news for the foreseeable future. Both sides need to wonder if turning their own personal battles over discipline into never-ending headlines is helping their sport.
• Hurricane Irma and even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t have helped NFL ratings. A lot of people either had more important things on their mind or were tuning into cable news.
• A new generation of fans isn’t watching traditional sports as much. According to Business Insider, a report by Limelight Networks said men ages 18 to 25 prefer watching eSports to traditional sports. If young men would rather watch video-game competitions than football, I’m not sure how the NFL battles that. It’s another reminder that the viewing audience is more fractured than it has ever been. It’s really hard to get 24.2 million people to sit down at the same time and watch anything on television anymore. The NFL can fight it – with rule changes to relax celebrations this year, for example – but it’s not like it can hold off a societal trend like that.
But the NFL doesn’t like giving back its viewership because that means it’s giving back profits. There are some things the league can probably do, like rethink if it really wants to make player discipline the first topic of conversation all the time and perhaps consider if less is more when it comes to exposure.
For now, you’re going to hear a lot about the demise of the NFL. Even from sides that are fighting back against the NFL for completely opposite reasons.
– – – – – – –