5 Reasons Why NFL TV Ratings Have Dropped

By: Leigh Steinberg
ORIGINAL POST on Forbes.com

The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling! The ratings for NFL football broadcasts have slumped. Overall ratings for games are down 15% The Sunday night game featuring two popular teams, the Seahawks and the Cardinals, was down 14.7% compared to the week seven game the year prior. If this were to become a consistent trend it would signal warning signs for the NFL. It is largely television revenue which has exploded the revenue base of the League. In 1976 franchises made $2 million dollars as their share of the national television contract. Last year that figure, with a few additions was $226 million. This has built franchise values from $16.5 million with
Tampa Bay and Seattle in 1976 to the $4.3 billion current valuation of the Dallas Cowboys.

Advertisers rely on television ratings to calculate their willingness to spend on commercials. The NFL has greatly benefited from "loss leader" bidding. Networks looking to build their Monday thru Friday primetime viewership by running promos for their programming during football games have bid more to acquire rights than they can realize in advertising. The goal is to build bottom line network value using the popularity of football for exposure. It certainly worked well for Fox Television. A precipitous drop in fan viewing might change the value of rights fees at the expiration of the current contracts.

1)These drops may be temporary and the NFL still the dominant factor in Nielsen ratings. Last week 3 of the top 5 rated Nielsen prime time shows were NFL related. Nothing else delivers as massive a steady audience stream as the NFL. Many weeks half of the top 10 rated shows are either NFL games or pre and post game shows. Some perspective is needed here.

2)Less Television Is Being Watched. There are so many entertainment options that people are using their time in alternative ways. Nielsen reports an 11% drop in overall traditional television watching. The younger generation is less wedded to television--the younger than 24 generation watches 40% less television. Appealing to these younger potential viewers and fans is a challenge the NFL must face.

3)The Kaepernick Protest Reaction. Yahoo Sports and YouGuv surveyed self-identified fans. 29% said they were watching less football. 40% identified the national anthem protests started by QB Colin Kaepernick. The great majority of media pundits and players supported Kaepernick. I supported the absolute right of athletes to express themselves on political and social issues, but feared the stadium was not the right venue, lest it turn into the political equivalent of a campus political zone. It is clear that a protest involving the flag at a stadium had a large negative impact on fans looking for sports as a respite from outside problems.

4)The Presidential Election. The ratings have been through the roof in television coverage of the dramatic and explosive contest between Clinton and Trump. Even for those opposing Trump, he has been "must watch" television, akin to looking at a traffic accident. In two weeks, we will see if this effect is long lasting.

5)Oversaturation. Football owes part of its' success to the "event" nature of the games. They are only played once a week for each team giving ample time for promotion of the upcoming game and then days of post-game analysis. Each game has more of an impact on a Super Bowl or playoff run than in the other sports. The long off-season builds anticipation. The addition of Thursday night football to Sunday and Monday nights may strike fans as too much. Even when they tune into these games, a one-sided result seems to lead to a faster tune-out.

​There are multiple factors playing a role in diminished viewership, some of which may be temporary. The domination of NFL television is the straw that stirs the drink for its' popularity and any dip is concerning.​