Sports Media Watch has a great resource for the National Football League’s ratings since 2014 and a glance through the listings for this season through Week 13 offers a sea of red fields showing just how badly the league’s TV ratings have suffered this year.
Nearly every week the statistics show the NFL’s games have lost viewers over the same week last season with only occasional broadcasts ticking upward in either overall viewership or among viewers in the sought-after 18-49 age demographic.
Take the just concluded Week 13, for instance. The numbers compiled by SMW show that only two games saw an uptick in viewers over last year. Sunday Night Football was up eleven percent over Week 13’s Sunday night game last year in both the number of viewers and among viewers in the important 18 to 49 age bracket. Monday Night Football numbers were up as well.
But, the rest of the week’s NFL games were in the red, one down as much as 20 percent. The game on Fox was off seven percent in over all viewers and nine percent in the 18-49 age demographic. Thursday Night Football was down ten percent in both categories. CBS lost even more with a negative 16 and 18 percent respectively. And the second half of the Fox double header was even worse losing 18 percent overall and 20 percent in the age demo.
Comparing that to how Week 13 performed in 2016 over its previous season shows an even more disastrous performance.
In 2016, Thursday Night Football and the game on CBS beat the numbers from 2015. TNF was up 16 and 22 percent in the categories while CBS enjoyed a six and eight percent bump last year over the 2015 season. But the other games were down and down by a ton. On the not as bad side, NBC lost eight and seven percent respectively, while the second game on Fox lost ten and eleven percent. But ESPN and the first game of the Fox double header were disasters. Fox lost 22 and 21 percent over 2015’s Week 13, while ESPN lost a whopping 43 percent in both categories.
A look at how the 2015 season performed over the 2014 season shows a startling difference compared to the dismal numbers we’ve seen for both 2016 and 2017.
Indeed, the numbers for 2015 show only two games seeing negative numbers while all the others are up handily. In 2015, NBC lost 11 and 9 percent over 2014 while the second game of the Fox double header lost seven percent in both categories. But all the other games for 2015’s Week 13 were up nicely. CBS was up six and ten percent, Fox’s first game was up 13 percent in both categories, and ESPN gained 18 and 20 percent respectively.
The Week 13 games from 2014 are also nearly all in the plus column over the numbers from 2013.
The numbers for Week 13 related above are emblematic of how the rest of the season has gone, too. The statistics show similar trends for the other weeks as 2014 and 2015 held their ground or gained slightly, while 2016 and 2017 show massive losses over previous seasons.
So, what happened? Well, cable cord-cutting has grown, granted. Then, as many in pro football have lamented, the addition of more games has perhaps created a bit of football fatigue in TV land. But more to the point 2016 and 2017 saw the league becoming with Colin Kaepernick’s anti-American protests during the playing of the national anthem. With that, Americans seem to have soured on the NFL and the ratings seem to bear that out.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.