NFL News: Poll Reveals Reason For Declining NFL TV Ratings

The survey data may explain why viewers are changing the channel in droves.

UBS survey about NFL TV ratings
Marcio Jose Sanchez, / AP Images

The survey data may explain why viewers are changing the channel in droves.

A survey of 2,000 representative U.S. consumers by international investment bank and brokerage firm UBS Securities purports to reveal why National Football League TV ratings continue to trend downward.

Once considered America’s most popular spectator sport and essentially an ATM machine for owners, players, television networks, and others in the commerce stream, NFL regular season ratings were down 10 percent, fell 13 percent on Wild Card weekend, followed by a 16-percent audience erosion for the divisional round, and 8 percent for the conference championship games in the 2017-2018 campaign.

Moreover, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll of 900 adults compiled in mid-January suggests that the league is apparently losing ground with its key cohort, males in the 18-49 demographic, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The action-packed Super Bowl 52 matchup, in which the Philadelphia Eagles upset the New England Patriots by a score of 41-33, nonetheless turned out to be the lowest-rated NFL world championship game since 2009, with a 7 percent year-over-year drop in the audience. It also failed to break the 111 million viewer mark for the first time in five years. That said, ratings also indicate that it was the 10th most popular live broadcast in television history, with about 103 million watching on what has become an unofficial American national holiday.

Over this football season and the one prior, various reasons have been offered for the disappearing NFL fan in terms of TV watching. These include oversaturation of games being telecast, non-competitive games, referees blowing calls that are game-changers and inconsistent application of the rules, poor quality of play (especially in the quarterback position), player injuries, cord-cutting consumers gravitating toward other forms of streaming entertainment instead of traditional TV, and some players refusing to stand for the national anthem. It also seems that the AFC is otherwise so weak, and Tom Brady and co. are so strong, that the Patriots have a glide path to the post-season every year.

The UBS survey from what it calls its “Evidence Lab” indicates that 50 percent of the respondents who watched less NFL football in 2017 gave disapproval of the national anthem protests as their reason, a 30-percent jump from last year, and constituting the largest increase for any explanation. In second place, about 30 percent of the fans stated that they were simply less interested in pro football, followed by 23 percent who said they were turned off by players’ off-the-field behavior, the Washington Times reported.

Former San Francisco 49ers and now out-of-work quarterback Colin Kaepernick was the first NFL player to take a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as a form of political activism to protest against police misconduct. It sparked similar protests throughout the league, although apparently no player kneeled during the entirety of the NFL playoffs.

While the NFL generally and many sports analysts and industry observers have downplayed the impact of dissatisfaction with the national anthem protests, anecdotal evidence on social media and elsewhere, as well previous opinion polls, also suggests at least a portion of the NFL fan base has become alienated from the league and will no longer watch the games or even show up to the stadiums in person.

Polling data on NFL TV ratings
  Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP Images

In the survey findings distributed to its investors, but apparently not released publicly, UBS offered this conclusion, Broadcasting & Cable reported, that should give the NFL some pause.

“It is unclear what the long term impact of the Anthem protests will be on NFL viewership. It could be argued that this is a temporary headwind for the NFL, however the protests have already impacted two consecutive seasons. Additionally there is no guarantee that viewers who stop watching NFL games because of the protests would return if protests were to stop.”

UBS added that pursuant to Nielsen data, 2017 NFL ratings shrunk about eight percent in large metropolitan areas and up to approximately 16 percent outside of major TV markets.