This is the story I’ve been expecting to see since the pre-season began, honestly. The NFL has been embroiled in one controvery after another for more than a few years. Through it all, the fans have still remained largely loyal and the ratings for broadcasts have been a proven winner in the advertising market. With that as the backdrop there’s been very little incentive for change. But this year something has been different. I’m still watching the Jets’ games, but I found myself losing interest in sitting through some of the other contests. While preparing for our weekly prognostication battle, Ed Morrissey even signaled on a recent Monday night that he’d be watching something other than the big game.
It wasn’t just us. As Pat Imig reports at the Sporting News, viewership is down and it’s not simply a one week blip on the radar.
The League of Integrity, the National Football League, is beginning to learn it’s not infallible after all.
Early TV ratings reports show viewership is down in prime-time games and in featured national telecasts.
The NFL Kickoff game on NBC was down from a year ago, and the Week 3 “Sunday Night Football” telecast between major markets Dallas and Chicago was down 7 percent from 2015 (Denver-Detroit). That’s pretty significant when you consider the market sizes.
We also have seen the two lowest-rated “Monday Night Football” telecasts since at least 2009, which includes a Week 2 snoozer between Philadelphia and Chicago. The Week 3 contest between Atlanta and New Orleans drew a 5.7 overnight rating, which would be the lowest MNF rating ever on ESPN.
I suppose it would be easy for most of us who follow the sport to single out one issue which is causing this. Pat Imig lists quite a few suspects on the list of possibilities and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us were quick to point to Colin Kaepernick and the spate of other players protesting the national anthem. To be sure, that’s got to be a factor. I’d hardly be the first to pen a column about how football is a treasured tradition where even the most politically involved among us get to set aside the daily grind of partisan warfare and just enjoy ourselves for a few hours. And protesting the national anthem is simply unpatriotic, no matter what motivated you to do it. Who needs a serving of that alongside their beer and hot wings?
But Pat goes on to list a variety of other factors which have been building up for some time. Some are technical issues of the modern era, including cord cutters and an instant gratification society which would rather get its entertainment through social media or other nontraditional outlets. There were also more controversies than just the national anthem. The debate over concussions and brain injuries turned off some fans. Plus, the use of the gridiron as a marketing tool for everything from charities to cars or beverages didn’t help.
In the end, maybe all of the controversies come back to the same thing. We love football and we really don’t want to have the rest of these questions shoved in our faces while we root for the home team. The NFL needs to get its players, coaches and owners under control and get back to the purity of the sport. There’s another 165 hours every week to deal with the rest of it. Let’s just get on with the game.