There was a time when Bill Belichick, the Patriots, and a Super Bowl rematch with the high-octane offense of the Los Angeles Rams, would translate into a massive rating night for the networks.
That time is over.
The Week 14 Thursday night clash between the Patriots and the Rams, a game which turned into a lopsided rout in favor of the Rams, earned 13.64 million viewers, a 24 percent decline.
Perhaps, even more, disappointing for the league, the Fox doubleheader on Sunday afternoon, which normally performs relatively well, bombed. Despite featuring Aaron Rodgers, good media markets, and two teams in playoff contention, the Eagles-Saints and Packers-Lions matchups only fetched 22.52 million viewers, a 20 percent decline.
The doubleheader normally does well considering it doesn’t take place in primetime, and the television competition is lighter. However, that did not play out in the NFL’s favor in Week 14.
The Week 14 ratings come as a rude reversal for league executives who had hoped that strong Thanksgiving week ratings would herald a turnaround in the NFL’s suddenly dwindling television fortunes. Speaking of fortunes, much is on the line with the league’s television ratings for this year in particular.
As Front Office Sports’ Michael McCarthy reports:
The stakes are high. All of the league’s media deals expire after the 2021 and 2022 seasons. There are potentially billions of dollars at stake as the NFL tries to nearly double its $5 billion annual rights fees from media partners ESPN, CBS, NBC, and Fox.
After growing 5% in each of the past two seasons, some TV executives worry the NFL’s 7% drop through the halfway point of 2020 augurs a return to the 2016 and 2017 seasons — when average audiences fell 8% and 10%, respectively.
If the league doesn’t turn the numbers around soon, the NFL could lose bargaining power when negotiating with network executives and, of course, they could lose billions of dollars.