After a 10 percent decline in National Football League regular season viewership, an uptick in TV watchers would generally be expected once the playoffs roll around and the one-and-done games obviously become more meaningful. So far, however, that has not been the case.
Ratings fell 13 percent year-over-year for the Wild Card weekend, and 16 percent for the divisional round, even though three of the four games went down to the wire. The results of the AFC and NFC title games show an eight percent drop from 2017. According to Nielsen, 43 million people were glued to their TVs watching football during last weekend’s games, as opposed to 47 million the year before, AP reported.
NFL and NBC execs, along with a cadre of advertisers, probably breathed a sigh of relief when New England Patriots QB Tom Brady engineered yet another comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the media industry, the Jags vs. the Minnesota Vikings or the Philadelphia Eagles would not have been considered a marquee matchup. Based on their apparent rooting preferences, most of America will probably be hate-watching the Super Bowl and hoping that the Eagles can pull an upset as Brady and Coach Bill Belichick seek their sixth title in eight tries. A Pats blowout, on the other hand, could result in a lot of channel switching and unwatched commercials.
Super Bowl LII will air on the NBC television network on February 4, starting at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time.
According to the New York Post, the Jags-Pats playoff game garnered a huge audience as the most-watched TV program since last year’s Super Bowl, while the Eagles victory over the Vikings was the lowest-rated NFC title game in nine years.
Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis further outlined the ratings shortfall for the NFL, while noting that the college football playoffs made double-digit gains, and NBA ratings are up, as he explained on the Outkick the Coverage blog.
“The AFC and NFC title games hit a nine-year low when you combine total viewers for both games. More alarmingly for the NFL, the ratings have declined nearly 20% for those games since 2014…Audiences aren’t abandoning all of sports this year, they’re just abandoning the NFL.”
Various reasons have been offered for the disappearing NFL viewer. These include oversaturation of games being telecast, non-competitive games, referees blowing calls that are game-changers, poor quality of play (especially in the quarterback position), player injuries, cord-cutting consumers gravitating toward Netflix and other forms of streaming entertainment instead of traditional TV, and the national anthem protests.
Clay Travis (as well as other a few other sports journalists such as FS1’s Jason Whitlock) maintains that there is a significant overlap between Trump and/or conservative voters and NFL fans, and many in this cohort have become turned off, literally and figuratively, to pro football because of the national anthem protests.
Although many sports analysts have downplayed the impact of dissatisfaction with the protests, anecdotal evidence on social media and elsewhere, as well various opinion polls, suggests at least a portion of the NFL fan base has become alienated from the league because some players kneeled during the Star-Spangled Banner as a form of political activism.
Adding to the controversy, the NFL has rejected an ad from a veterans’ group that encouraged players to stand during the national anthem. The one-page ad was meant for inclusion in the printed Super Bowl program, Sports Illustrated reported.
In the meantime, WWE CEO Vince McMahon is apparently set to announce the return of the XFL.
The Super Bowl could provide a make-or-break moment for NFL TV ratings moving forward. Time will tell if the league can reverse the current trend with the big game next month.