The first step in fixing a problem, common wisdom holds, is admitting you have one. After nine weeks of falling ratings, the NFL has finally begun to admit that the problem isn’t just cable-cutters, the presidential election, or the World Series. What they still won’t admit is that players themselves have turned off the public.
In fact, this New York Times report doesn’t even mention the national-anthem protests at all:
Though television ratings are down by double digits so far this season, Goodell said that N.F.L. ratings had risen 27 percent in the past decade even as ratings for prime-time television had fallen 36 percent. Speaking on Thursday at the annual DealBook conference hosted by The New York Times, he called this year’s decline “cyclical.”
Goodell noted, though, that the pace of games could also be a factor in the ratings decline. Fans have complained for years that games are too long, and they frequently express annoyance at the number of commercial breaks and video reviews. Last season, the average length of regular-season games, from kickoff to final whistle, was 3 hours 8 minutes, six minutes longer than in 2008.
Goodell said the league was considering a number of potential solutions to improve the pace of games, including running fewer advertisements and changing when they run. The league is also looking at ways to speed up video reviews by its officials as well as the time it takes referees to announce penalties on the field.
Not only does the name “Kaepernick” not appear once in this article, neither does the word “protest” or any form of it. The Times’ Ken Belson makes not a single mention of the issue. Perhaps Goodell didn’t discuss it at the NYT’s DealBook conference yesterday where these remarks were made. If so, why didn’t the moderator or reporters present bring it up? Or if they did, why didn’t the Times report on that?
The omission is all the more remarkable considering a national poll published by Seton Hall two weeks ago. They asked 841 adults why they were watching less NFL football this season, and literally none of the top responses had to do with game run time. The top reason? The protests of the national anthem:
56% of respondents cited players not standing for the anthem, with 50% citing the distraction of the presidential campaign and 47% the controversy over the handling of domestic violence cases involving players.
On the question of domestic violence, men and women responded equally; 47% of men cited that as a possible reason, 46% of women said yes to that possibility.
Other factors included games on too many days, over-saturating the market (44%), increased interest in post-season baseball (39%), the ongoing controversy over head injuries (33%) and a decline in quality of play on the field (33%).
The NFL has addressed or at least acknowledged most of these issues. They’re still fumbling a bit on domestic violence, but they have been attempting to figure out a coherent approach. The league has made significant changes to the game in an attempt to reduce head trauma, some of which might actually be exacerbating fan frustration when it comes to penalizing players and therefore game run time. (The best solution would be to take the helmets off for defensive players, but don’t expect the league to try that.)
The only issue that the commissioner and this article ignores is the leading cause of the decline according to the fan base. Somehow, that doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the NFL’s ability to solve the issue.
If the NFL wants to address game run time while ignoring the problem, though, that sounds like good news for fans. There are far too many reasons to take time-outs, which get very distracting as the games wear on into their fourth hour. However, if they’re going to cut down on ad time, that will mean less money for the teams, and less money for the players, too. Maybe that will solve the problem, as the costs of the protests start hitting the wallets of all the players.