Network executives are scrambling to solve the growing problem of crashing ratings for the National Football League, by cutting games to end the perceived “over-saturation” of football on TV.
To put an end to the sliding ratings, the executives are proposing that fewer games may be the ticket to stop that “over-saturation,” with one idea being to cut Thursday Night Football by a whopping ten games.
The idea to trim Thursday Night Football from 18 games a season to only eight was first reported by Sports Business Journal and was part of a plan to reverse the ratings crash that also includes pulling games played in the U.K. back to 1 PM eastern time (6PM London time).
Indeed the amount of football on TV has exploded in the last decade.
“Ten years ago, the NFL had 32 game windows through week six,” SBJ reported. “This year, it is up to 39, a 22 percent increase. It’s even more crowded in college, where the 2007 windows to this point added up to 105. This year, it’s at 179, up a whopping 71 percent.”
Mike Mulvihill, a Fox Sports vice president, told SBJ that the problem isn’t that there is too much NFL on TV, but that there is too much football all the way around — including college.
“The rise in football availability is pretty dramatic,” Mulvihill said. “This is what drives fragmentation in every area of television. … You can argue whether there’s greater or lesser interest in the game of football than there was ten years ago. But clearly, whatever that interest is, it’s being spread out over quite a few more windows than it was ten years ago.”
For his part, Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Broadcasting and Sports, worried that there is football fatigue by every Sunday of the week and noted that the biggest ratings fall is among viewers aged 18 to 34 years.
“They more and more are getting satisfied by the alternatives of highlights and scores that are available during the game,” Lazarus said. “That continues to train young viewers to follow our sports, not watch our sports. That is concerning for all sports television.”
Ratings are still down despite the small rise seen in Week 7. NBC Sports is off 21 percent from 2015, CBS Sports is down 14 percent compared to 2015, and ESPN’s Monday Night Football has sunk 17 percent over 2015.
Still, despite the NFL’s ratings pain, sports is still a TV leader compared to episodic series TV and sitcoms.
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.