NFL Ratings Decline In All But One of Last 26 Primetime Games

Jacoby Brissett, Max Bullough,
The Associated Press

Based on the 27-0 score, most people believed that the late September Thursday Night Football game between the Patriots and the Texans accomplished nothing more than Bill Belichick once again proving his brilliance, as he annihilated a then 2-0 football team with his third string quarterback.

Unbeknownst to all until now, that early season matchup accomplished perhaps an even more impressive feat by becoming the only primetime NFL game this year that did not decline in ratings from last year.

Sports Media Watch told the woeful tale of the NFL’s primetime decline, set against the backdrop of the NFL’s most recent example of “must not see” TV:

The Week 9 Falcons/Buccaneers Thursday Night Football game had a 3.6 final rating and 5.8 million viewers on NFL Network, down 35% in ratings and 34% in viewership from Browns/Bengals last year (5.5, 8.8M) and down 14% and 15%, respectively, from Saints/Panthers in 2014 (4.2, 6.9M).

The Falcons’ win delivered the third-lowest rating and viewership of the NFL season, ahead of only Jaguars/Titans the previous week (3.2, 5.1M) and the Giants/Rams London game in Week 7 (2.4, 3.7M).

More important than the actual number, which was always going to be low on NFL Network, is the continued slide from last season. Thursday’s game was the 25th of 26 primetime NFL telecasts to post a year-over-year decline. Of those 25, each has hit a multi-year low in ratings and all-but-one has done so in viewership. The only primetime game all season to post an increase over last year was Texans/Patriots on TNF in Week 3.

Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith reacted to news of the ratings decline thusly, “Those numbers strongly indicate that the ratings decline isn’t about blowout games or bad matchups or the presidential election. If those were the problems, the ratings wouldn’t be down in the close games and the good matchups and the nights when there’s not a lot of campaign news.

“Instead, the NFL’s ratings decline is broad-based, affecting every team, every night and every week. That’s a real problem for the league, one that the owners need to get their hands around.”

Of course, the problem that the league executives must “get their hands around” is no mystery. Polling clearly blamed Colin Kaepernick’s protests, primarily, for that phenomenon.

Yet, the Kaepernick protests have increasingly become the part pig, part porcupine, faux creature that roamed the woods in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. An isolated town, in this case the NFL, is haunted by a terrifying truth that lurks just beyond its borders. No matter what they do, they can’t escape the knowledge that this force threatens their utopia. However, they don’t actually confront the beast, instead they ignore the monster and refuse to speak its name.

With the obvious difference, of course, that there’s nothing fake about the monster stalking the NFL.

Follow Dylan Gwinn on Twitter: @themightygwinn