Just in case you were thinking that the NFL’s speedy descent into ratings oblivion would soon come to an end, don’t bother, it’s not.
As the National Football League enters into Week 7, statistics show that TV ratings are getting steadily worse, not better.
Week 6 was down nearly nine percent over the 2016 season with only 15,026,000 viewers (down 8.2 percent). Though, even worse, viewership has fallen almost 19 percent over the 2015 season, down from the 18,485,000 viewers from two years ago (down 18.7 percent), Sporting News reported.
Logically following the loss of national audience, the NFL is losing in the local markets, as well.
“Twenty-five of 31 teams (excluding the Chargers, because of the move) are drawing lower local numbers than they did in 2016. Nineteen have dropped 5 percent or more, including brand name teams like the Cowboys (7 percent drop), Patriots (8 percent) and Steelers (6 percent), and both New York clubs (the Giants are down 7 percent, the Jets are down 37 percent). Conversely, only three teams (Chiefs, Bucs, Lions) have improved by more than 5 percent,” Albert Breer wrote at Sports Illustrated.
Viewership is down in 20 of the 36 team markets in which games are broadcast, Breer found. While online viewing has grown, it has been nowhere near the sort of growth capable of offsetting the loss of traditional TV broadcasts.
At least one NFL owner is sure that the national anthem protests have driven fans away. Giants owner John Mara told Breer that “there’s no question” that the protests are hurting the league. But Mara thinks that the protests are more important than the fans.
“But this is an important social issue. And sometimes you have to put the interests of the business behind the interest of issues that are more important than that,” Mara said.
As ratings continue to slide, two social media campaigns show no signs of abating. The two campaigns, #NoKaepernickNoNFL and #BoycottNFL, are still some of the hottest trends on Twitter and Facebook.
In an attempt to blackmail the league, Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett recently said that the NFL would have to put original anthem-protester Colin Kaepernick on a team, before holding any serious discussions about ending the anthem protests. However, Bennett has no power to make such a demand, and while the hiring of Kaepernick may assuage some few players, it will not likely please fans. Further, no player has protested the country because Kaepernick isn’t in the league, so his return will not have any connection to their protests. Not to mention the likelihood that Kaepernick himself will simply restart his own protests, once back in the league.
The steadily falling ratings may also be cutting into the networks’ bottom line.
According to financial agency Credit Suisse, CBS’ consistently plummeting game ratings will have a direct impact on the company’s earnings with the financial service warns that the ratings could cut CBS earnings by as much as five percent.
Credit Suisse isn’t alone in warning that the NFL’s fall from grace is bad for the TV networks’ bottom line.
In September, another report claimed that CBS, ESPN, Fox and NBC could take a $200 million hit to their estimated $2.5 billion in NFL advertising earnings if fans continue to turn away from their football habit.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.