NFL ratings are plummeting this season, and it is all because of Colin Kaepernick and the national anthem protests.
That sounds plausible, and Fox News has certainly been pounding that interpretation down people’s throats, including another article today.
There is only one problem: NFL football definitely has fewer viewers, but it has little to do with Colin Kaepernick, the continued tweets from Donald Trump, or any firestorm of patriotic fervor from those who believe that the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback and others who have taken a knee rather than stand for the national anthem are disrespecting our men and women in uniform.
Certainly, there are some who have abandoned the NFL because of the protests, but that number is nowhere near as substantial as Fox News or the president would have you believe.
The biggest problem facing the NFL is not national anthem protests.
The ratings drop this year, which the Fox News article pegged at 10 percent and last year when it was 8 percent, can be blamed on three factors: the NFL itself, the game of football, and the changing nature of how Americans enjoy their entertainment.
Too Many Nights, Too Many Games
At one time, the only time you saw professional football was on Sunday afternoon, with Saturday games in December and Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions games on Thanksgiving.
That changed in 1970 when Monday Night Football began airing on ABC. The Monday night games were wildly successful, combining the appeal of the sport with entertainment value provided by announcers Howard Cosell and Don Meredith.
At some point, NFL owners decided to up the ante and add more networks and more days for their games. Now we have Sunday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, and games that can be seen only on the NFL Network, which is accessible to fewer viewers.
NFL is no longer anything special. If you miss it on Monday, you can catch it on Thursday.
The league has also continued a practice of placing its showcase games between better teams on either NBC’s Sunday Night Football or ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
That practice has eventually caused audiences to erode for what should have remained the bread and butter of the league: the Sunday afternoon games.
More Entertainment Options
Even if the NFL owners were not oversaturating the market with their product, they would likely be seeing decreasing ratings.
Viewers have too many choices available to them.
The success of Monday Night Football came before cable television took hold. At that point, the NFL was the only game in town.
Somehow football managed to maintain its hold on American audiences even after that and teamed with cable network ESPN to boost the product even more.
In 2018, viewers are almost overwhelmed with alternative programming and varied means of receiving that programming.
Facing continually increasing costs and varying tiers and packages, many Americans are opting to cut the cord and go with Netflix, Hulu, or other streaming services.
Those who continue to use cable or satellite have so many networks to choose from, combined with an increase in quality of programming that the NFL, like the original broadcasting networks, is having trouble maintaining its audience.
Violence In Football
Even with the declining viewership, the NFL is by no means “plummeting” as Fox News has suggested. Invariably, the Sunday night and Monday night telecasts are at or near the top of the Nielsen ratings.
That is not likely to change soon, but in a few years, that could happen.
The biggest threat to the NFL is the nature of the sport. Football is violent, and a growing body of evidence has shown just how violent and how dangerous it is.
A Boston University study on the effect of football violence on the brain showed a clear correlation between the violent hits suffered in all levels of football from youth to the NFL and later problems that not only endanger the quality of life but life itself.
The study indicated that NFL players who had played youth football were more likely to develop memory loss and mental health issues in their later years.
The declining viewership for the NFL is happening at the same time that the numbers playing youth football are decreasing, with some of that decrease due to the greater amount of information available about the effects of violence in the sport.
If that trend continues, football could well begin to see a gradual decline that inevitably will find the sport sharing a niche with boxing as sports that once dominated the American landscape and remain as a haven for bettors and an older audience who remembers the sport’s glory days.