NFL Ratings Could Be Headed for Another Steep Drop in 2018

NFL Ratings
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

The National Football League Could lose even more viewers during the coming 2018 season, in what may be another “brutal blitz” on the league’s ratings.

According to Richard Morgan of the New York Post, the NFL is facing a growing list of troubles, all of which will likely result in fewer fans and lower TV ratings.

Indeed, the past two seasons have seen millions quit their football habit. In 2016 TV ratings fell eight percent, and in 2017 they fell an additional ten percent. To that Morgan adds, “ratings could fall even faster as the league continues to grapple with a slew of ugly controversies that have turned off viewers.”

Naturally one of the chief controversies is still swirling. After two full seasons of player protests during the national anthem, the issue is still alive and kicking. In fact, players already re-started their protests during this year’s pre-season games despite the league’s criticism of the protests.

The league made an aborted effort to ban the protests but then pulled back in favor of meeting with the National Football League Players Association to work out a mutually agreeable solution to the protests. Yet, the two sides have failed to produce a compromise resolution, and the season is set to start on Thursday.

Further, as Morgan notes, an arbitrator has ruled that Colin Kaepernick’s grievance against the league accusing the NFL of “colluding” to keep him out of professional football will go to court.

In any case, the constant controversy over the anthem protests is not going away soon and that is driving fans away.

However, as Morgan writes, the league has problems other than the protests.

“Elsewhere, the NFL continues to be dogged by headlines over its concussion settlements with players, which crossed the $500 million mark this spring,” Morgan wrote.

Though, there is another problem looming for the long-term health of the NFL: kids are not playing football.

“According to research firm Statista, participation in tackle football among US kids ages 6 and older has plunged 38 percent since 2006,” Morgan notes, adding:

That’s not good, says sports media analyst Brian Mulligan, who calls the metric “the No. 1 predictor of future interest in the NFL.”

Mulligan adds that countries supplying the most immigrants to the US — Mexico, China, Cuba, and India — all prefer soccer to American football and have no interest in switching to the NFL playbook.

If the league can’t create new, younger fans, where will it be in 10 or 20 years?

Then there is the more immediate future as millennials continue to drift away from cable and broadcast TV.

Morgan reports that with millennial media users more interested in using their phones to consume media, traditional TV shows are losing fans at a record pace:

‘The downward trend in ratings is unavoidable — even though NFL ratings are outperforming the broader TV market,’ BTIG analyst Rich Greenfield told The Post.

Sports Media Watch reported on Friday that NFL preseason viewership was down 9 percent across NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN and the NFL Network. And though experts doubt the ability of early results to predict regular-season viewing, a couple of declines were especially worrisome.

A game featuring the Dallas Cowboys on Aug. 26 was the team’s least-watched broadcast on a network since 2009. A match-up between the Buffalo Bills and the Cincinnati Bengals that same day was the least-watched preseason game on Fox since 2008.

Finally, Morgan points to the recent Nike campaign featuring anthem protester Colin Kaepernick as one more strike against the league. Morgan did not elaborate, but it appears he feels that the Nike ad, featuring Kaepernick saying “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” is a message that the NFL is not worthy of a fan’s attention.

In any case, professional football is facing more hurdles than ever, and thus far it does not seem that the league has a viable strategy to outlast its troubles.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.


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