Yahoo Finance: The NFL’s Terrible 2017 May Have Shown That the League Is Done Growing

Yahoo! Finance Senior Writer Daniel Roberts took stock of the kind of year the NFL had in 2017, and found that it was none too kind to the league. However, even though the league appears to be on a downward trend, Roberts says the league isn’t dying; but it may have hit a “plateau.”

Roberts went through a litany of reasons why the NFL had a terrible year in 2017, naming all the woes the league faced on its trend to the bottom of America’s professional sports scene. But he also noted that despite its fall from its once lofty perch as far and away the most popular sport, the NFL is still a huge draw on TV and is still earning billions.

In his December 30 analysis, Roberts started out rounding up the NFL’s negatives for 2017:

Primetime television ratings are down nearly 10% overall on average this season; players took up the mantle of Colin Kaepernick from last season and began kneeling or raising a fist during the national anthem to protest police brutality, alienating some fans and forcing NFL corporate sponsors to take sides; President Trump fueled the political narrative by targeting the league in tweets and at live rallies; and a polling firm says the NFL is now one of the most divisive brands in America.

The writer also noted that “Fewer Americans now identify themselves as football fans compared to five years ago, while fans of the NBA and NHL have grown, according to Gallup.”

Roberts goes on to say that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was able to secure a contract extension despite his failures. But his failures also didn’t add up to a breach of his contract particulars, so the owners gave him another shot.

From there Roberts lays out a series of reasons why the NFL faced harsh headwinds in 2017 and beyond.

A tough one for the NFL is “cord-cutting,” Roberts notes. That is the act of sports fans who are canceling their TV services whether it be cable or satellite. These fans are forming a habit of just watching highlights on streaming services or the Internet instead of watching entire games as they check out from past TV watching habits.

Though, Roberts also notes that at this point cord-cutting still hasn’t toppled the NFL from being the number one show on TV. Roberts says, “it’s important to remember that NFL games still dominate other live programming. 44 of the best-rated primetime TV programs of 2017 were NFL games.”

As far as Roberts is concerned, rumors of the NFL’s death are exaggerated.

So don’t believe screaming headlines that declare the death of the NFL. The NFL is hardly dead or even dying — but it may have already hit its zenith of popularity. And the truth no one wants to acknowledge is that the NFL could afford to take a small haircut in viewership, and maybe even revenue, and still remain a major force in American pro sports.

Roberts went on from there to list several other problems facing the league. From too much political divisiveness to too many games (causing “saturation” among fans) to a continuing problem with head injuries and player safety, the league faces a series of hurdles moving forward which is challenging its spot as America’s top sport.

Roberts ends with a pointed question:

The biggest question about the major American pro sports leagues in the next few years will be: For how much longer can the NFL remain the most popular league? Super Bowl 52 will be a good indicator, since the audience size for the Super Bowl is generally not dependent on what happened in the regular season.

The trends are already downward for the NFL, will the Super Bowl help change that trend?

Stay tuned.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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