In case you have been living under a rock, NFL television ratings are down considerably. All primetime broadcast windows have seen a double-digit percentage decrease from last year. CBS’s Sunday afternoon ratings are down in similar fashion. The numbers at Fox have stayed the same or are only down slightly depending on the data source. Everyone within the NFL and those who cover it seem to be panicking. They should not be and here is why.
Prior to this year, record ratings were the norm- This is just simple logic. Everything peaks at some point. 19 of the 20 most watched television programs in American history are Super Bowls. Also, the top seven are all Super Bowls from this decade. The NFL may never be as popular as it was prior to this year again. That does not mean there is not still a massive market for it. However, whenever something is put up against record highs, the numbers are going to look bad. In a world where my friends and I struggle to agree on where to eat, it is difficult to get millions and millions of people to watch the same product every year.
We are living in a bizarre time- Some of this was already covered by my fellow writer Michael Sullivan in a well done recent article. Right now, we are all witnesses to the most unique (for lack of a better word) election anyone has ever seen. It is no secret that it is stealing viewers from football. The first presidential debate absolutely slaughtered the Monday night football game that was on at the same time.
There is also the Cubs. Those of us younger than 71 have never seen the wildly popular “lovable losers” have a legitimate chance at the World Series. Game one pulled in almost 20,000,000 viewers Tuesday night. Granted no NFL game was on at the same time. Even so, it has been a long time since baseball put up numbers comparable to those of the NFL. It will be interesting to see how the numbers stack up Sunday with both sports on at the same time. The good news for the NFL is that both the election and the Cubs are temporary. If there is not a significant ratings uptick for the NFL by the end of next month, I will be shocked.
The NFL is in a transition period- Like any other television show, the NFL is star driven. The stars are the quarterbacks. It has been a rough year for the established stars at that position. Peyton Manning retired and guys like Tom Brady, Tony Romo, and Ben Roethlisberger have missed or are missing extended periods of time for various reasons. Also, the signal callers that most thought would be the next generation of stars like Andrew Luck and Cam Newton are underperforming. Thus, we have had some underwhelming quarterback matchups this year. I love football and will always watch whenever it is on. However, I can certainly see some casual fans not being eager to tune in to a Brock Osweiler vs. Jacoby Brissett duel. The league went through a similar ratings dip when John Elway, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Dan Marino all retired in 1999-2000. New stars emerged then, and they will again, but it takes time.
It is not like nobody is watching- So, the Seahawks/Cardinals game last Sunday ended tied at six and was mocked by media and fans the next day. As ugly and “boring” as it was 28.6 million people watched it. The NFL is doing just fine.
Declining ratings are never good, but if any other television show pulled in 28 million people with everything going on, we would be talking about how amazing it is. If the ratings are still sagging when the season ends, this can be revisited. Until then, stop finding solutions to problems that don’t exist and enjoy the football.