Ratings for the National Football League are off substantially this season, and of course nobody at the league has the slightest idea why. It can’t be due to the ungrateful arrogance of has-been 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, or the increasing politicization of the sport by lefty sportwriters (and they’re all lefties) and ESPN. No, it must be something else:
The NFL has a ratings problem. The causes are many, and the leading cause is certainly up for debate. But that isn’t stopping the NFL from denying that the problem has some controversial undercurrents – or that the problem exists in the first place.
Sunday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants drew a 10.2 overnight rating as it mostly went up against the second presidential debate, according to Sports Media Watch. It’s a steep drop from 13.1 in Week 5 of the 2015 season and the lowest overnight rating since Week 8 of the 2013 season.
The presidential debate, and the 2016 election season, are no doubt cutting into TV ratings for everyone, not just the NFL. But for an 11 percent overall drop through the first four weeks of 2016 that is likely to deepen after Week 5? Seems more like a convenient excuse.
I can think of a few others. The sport is overlong, packing a whopping 11 minutes of action into a commercial-stuffed four hours of viewing time. Except for a few quarterbacks, the players are largely interchangeable and anonymous. And the television presenttion itself is essentially unwatchable, filled with graphics that add nothing to the enjoyment of the sport.
In short, the NFL sucks. But don’t expect the league to acknowledge that. Top brass would rather blame the election:
Yet, here’s the NFL sending an internal memo to all 32 teams reassuring them that the ratings are nothing to worry about. “There is no question that unprecedented interest in the Presidential election is impacting primetime ratings,” reads the letter from NFL reps Brian Rolapp and Howard Katz. Curiously, the letter brings up the effect that the backlash over the growing national anthem protests among players is having on the ratings, which they dismissed.
“Finally, it is worth noting that we see no evidence that concern over player protests during the National Anthem is having any material impact on ratings. In fact, our own data shows that perception of the NFL and its players is actually up in 2016.”
Right. And black is white and in is out and up is down.
In all seriousness, the league itself may have no evidence, but I certainly do … from the hundreds of fans who literally told me they stopped watching the NFL because they were sick of the anthem protests and the injection of politics into NFL games in the first place. Is the anthem protest backlash the onlycause of the ratings decline? No. It is most certainly a confluence of a lot of different issues. But to simply deny that there is a segment of the ever-crucial 18-49 demographic that saw the anthem protests as a “last straw” kind of moment that made them turn the channel on the NFL’s diminished on-field product is to demonstrate that you are out-of-touch with your own customers.
I used to think there were three things a malignant pop culture could never ruin: music, women’s bodies, and sports. Wrong on all three counts. Do yourself a favor: turn the NFL off, reclaim four or eight or twelve hours of your life per week, and go do something useful.
Meanwhile, this just in from ESPN: I rest my case.
Special added bonus: NFL player rap sheets.