Why Are NFL Ratings Down? Five Things You Need To Know

Ravens vs. Jaguars in London today.

This year’s U.S. football season is still in its infancy, but already television ratings are down — 12 percent in fact, according to the Hollywood Reporter. There are potentially a lot of implications for this long-term, from lost advertising dollars to overall team profitability. And this decline is on top of an 8 percent downturn from the prior year, as reported by the Los Angeles Times. However, what are the reasons for the continued slump in ratings? Here are five factors that have been reported as potential explanations for the dip.

  1. Hurricanes/Weather – There was widespread reporting that Hurricane Irma resulted in a hit to NFL ratings. According to Variety, the games that saw the greatest declines in viewership were “the Sunday afternoon games, which took place as many Florida viewers were experiencing the brunt of the storm.” Variety also reported that this was a time that “others across the country were following its path on cable news.” The storm did have plenty of news coverage, with cable news giving it around-the-clock attention. Also, evacuations in Florida most likely impacted viewership there.
  2. Quality of Play – Many experts have indicated that quality of play is a reason for decreased viewership. This would include how long some games can get. Also, the competitiveness of the games. Making sure that players are trained and ready to play could help with this issue. According to a 2016 article from the NFL, a developmental league could be part of the answer. “A developmental league could be something we want to do to help us develop players,” said NFL Commissioner Goodell. And that could result in better quality of play.
  3. Cord Cutting – According to a J.D. Power whitepaper titled “How Did Off-Field Factors Affect NFL Viewership and Attendance Among Sports Fans?” and released earlier this year, 6 percent of respondents to a survey cited indicated that their decrease in NFL game viewing was due to “cord cutting.” Cord cutting is the term used to describe the activity of canceling TV subscriptions, such as from cable or satellite providers. Cord cutting was also cited as a reason for layoffs earlier this year at ESPN, this according to Sports Business Daily.
  4. Domestic Violence – Domestic violence charges and cases against NFL players have impacted viewership. In fact, the same J.D. Powers survey indicated that 18 percent of football fans have decreased their game attention because of “off-field image problems with domestic violence.” This would seem to indicate that player conduct off the field is a deciding factor for many people as to whether they will spend their time watching a game.
  5. Players taking the knee has become a common scene at NFL games this season.
  1. National Anthem Protests – Many outlets, including the NFL itself, have discounted national anthem protests as a reason for decreased viewership. However, two surveys have indicated that the protests are a large reason for the downward turn. According to J.D. Powers, 24 percent of survey respondents indicated that the national anthem protests were the reason for their decrease in viewing. These protests, which originated with former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, started last year and have continued into this year’s football season. Last year, a Rasmussen poll showed that 32 percent of respondents were “less likely to watch a game because of the 49ers quarterback,” this as reported by Sports Illustrated.

While none of the five reasons cited may tell the whole story of why NFL ratings are down, they do provide some insight. One thing is true: The cost to networks this year will be “over $5 billion” in order to provide television coverage of the NFL, according to Forbes. With a price tag like that, it is probably a given that ratings will be researched to find the root cause of the issue. Football costs too much to have it not be a ratings winner.

[Featured Image by Tim Ireland/AP Images]