It Was All Good Just A Year Ago

Theories behind the NFL’s ratings decline

Depending on which agenda you are pushing the reasons behind the NFL’s decline in ratings could add up into the many hundreds but for the sake of time let’s examine only a few.


It is Colin Kaepernick’s fault. Everyone except for the blood lusting terrorists loves everything America, and the sight of him and other players kneeling during our most precious anthem have disgusted many consumers, and in revolt, they have decided not to support the NFL any longer. I personally don’t buy this one but I cannot exactly disprove it either. What I can do is highlight the fact that if it is true, then it is the NFL and military’s own Frankenstein they have created that has come alive and turned on them. By now its common knowledge that the government has been paying the NFL millions with tax payer dollars, to stage “on-field patriotic ceremonies” in an attempt to make the players look more patriotic. For six years or so this has worked well until the story broke that the armed forces had spent over $11 million dollars to hold events such as, on field flag ceremonies, and tributes to welcome home veterans.  The NFL gave back approximately $700,000.  Now I’m no Einstein but $11,000,000 minus $700,000 equals…OK I don’t have enough fingers and toes so I’ll move on but I think you get the point. This fake show of contrition by the league makes them look greedier and more callous by the day. When Kaepernick sat during the anthem ensuing fake outrage all over the country, it later came to light that it wasn’t until 2009 that the players were even brought out on the field during the anthem, again as a part of the agreement for the “paid patriotism” as John McCain called it. The more I think about it maybe Kaepernick’s stance is playing a bigger role in this than I gave him credit for.

No compelling match ups in prime time. With the retirement of Peyton Manning, the league has lost one of its greatest superstars and most amazing players. The story lines during Manning’s playing career were endless and he always “left it all on the field” as the super macho football jocks tend to say.  This year most of the prime time match ups have either been blowouts or have lacked the star power that would cause the more casual fans to tune in. After the opening night super bowl rematch between the Panthers and Broncos where the Panthers lost by 1, 8 of the next 11 prime time match ups(Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights) through week 4 were blow outs, some with star players never seeing the field due to injury.

It’s an election year!  This one just sounds like the NFL is grasping at straws. By this logic every 4 years the NFL should see a sharp ratings decline like we are seeing this year and that has not been the case. The biggest problem with this theory is only 2 games should have been affected, the Falcons vs Saints on September 26th MNF, and the Packers vs the Giants on October 9th SNF.  The NFL is seeing declines in games that are not competing with the debates for viewers and is still down double digits vs last year.

More fans are streaming and watching the Redzone channel. For the first time since its launch in July 2006, Twitter streamed a NFL game and over 2 million people watched.  This may be a part of the reason but does not explain the entire 14% to 16% decrease in primetime viewership from last year. The fact is if everyone or even most people switched from TV to online the drop would be offset by a spike in similar proportion to streaming services and that has not happened. The Redzone channel offers viewers with zero attention spans and/or are in fantasy leagues the opportunity to watch games of teams once they are in the “Redzone” or inside the 20 yard line.  This doesn’t explain the ratings decline for me because the Redzone channel debuted in 2009, and the drops in TV ratings are happening this year.

I could go on as the theories are endless, but could it be that simply we are seeing the inevitable plateau that all modern sports leagues face at some time in their life span? Remember there was a time when boxing ruled the world and baseball was “America’s pass time”.  Major League Baseball has managed to reorganize and restructure better than boxing has following its decline in popularity, and has reemerged as strong as ever. How will the NFL handle its decline?

When the public perception of the league was that its players were criminals, the owners hired Roger Goodell to be a strict disciplinarian, and like him or not it has worked. There are not as many arrests and PR disasters week after week like there were before he came aboard. When player safety became an issue the league responded by implementing protocols, though many cosmetic, to protect players from themselves. The jury is still out on this one as moms all across the country may be steering their kids to safer sports but we will see.

I am certain there are people way smarter than me scratching their heads right now trying to figure this thing out. They have most likely hired high profile firms to investigate the causes and come up with solutions to turn it around. Whatever they come up with one thing is for sure, nothing lasts forever and if the league does not act soon to maintain its position the decline will only accelerate as more viewers walk away.


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