'Tough start' for NFL season — ratings down 13% in Week 1

Daniel RobertsSenior Writer
Patriots QB Tom Brady during the 2017 NFL opener against the Chiefs on Sept. 7. (AP)
Patriots QB Tom Brady during the 2017 NFL opener against the Chiefs on Sept. 7. (AP)

Nielsen had to delay its release of the television ratings for Week 1 of the new NFL season due to Hurricane Irma. Now the Week 1 ratings are out—and they aren’t good.

Sunday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants was the only slot in which viewership rose compared to last year; every other Sunday game slot fell by double digits.

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Overall, excluding Monday Night Football, Week 1 ratings fell 13% from a year ago. (Monday Night Football ratings results were delayed until Thursday afternoon.)

Thursday Night’s season opener, between the Patriots and Chiefs, rated a 14.6, which is 11.5% down from 2016, and 17.5% down from 2015. This marks four years in a row that the season opener has seen a ratings decline vs the year before.

Sunday’s afternoon games did the worst: regional games on CBS fell 17%, regional games on Fox fell 28%, and the Sunday afternoon national game on Fox fell 17%.

Both Monday Night games in Week 1 were also down. The first game, between the Saints and Vikings, rated a 4.2, a 12.5% drop from the first Monday Night game last year; the second game, between the Chargers and Broncos, rated a 3.9, a 7% drop.

It was a “tough start for the NFL,” UBS analysts wrote in a research note on Thursday. (See below chart from UBS using Nielsen data.)

UBS ascribes some of the decline to Hurricane Irma. Cable news networks saw an 8.5 million-person spike in viewership during the hurricane, more than double the decline NFL viewers. Many people that would have been watching football may have been watching news. The ‘cable news distraction’ was also the reasoning the NFL used last season for its ratings decline at that time, amidst the election. (Yahoo Finance has reached out to the NFL for comment on ratings.)

It’s worth noting that on the same NFL opening weekend, the Stephen King clown movie “It” was smashing box office records, which may call into question the notion that the NFL ratings dip is strictly due to people being glued to cable hurricane coverage.

UBS cautions, “It will likely take several weeks of data to gauge the health of the NFL this season … Certainly, if this pace of decline continues, we would consider it quite bearish for media.”

And speaking of the NFL: Are you listening to our new Sportsbook: Business of Football podcast? New episodes come out every Thursday morning.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwriteSportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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