Monday Night Football’s shootout between Seattle and Buffalo was one of the better games of the season thus far, yet ratings for the broadcast were still down from the same time a year ago. In fact, 27 of the last 28 primetime NFL games have fallen short of their year-to-year ratings. With good reason, this has NFL executives worried- more than they’ll admit. So what’s the reason for the drop? Well, there are a few different theories, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly.
One theory is that the primetime games this season have just not been intriguing matchups. Thursday Night Football’s contest this week features the 0-9 Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens, a less than compelling matchup. Unfortunately, this has been the case for the majority of primetime broadcasts this season. But here’s the problem with this explanation: weak matchups have never derailed ratings to the point we’re seeing. In fact, Seattle vs. Buffalo, in what promised to be a fairly entertaining matchup, rated worse than last season’s matchup of 2-6 teams. This can’t be the only explanation for 27/28 failed year-to-year comparisons.
The Thursday Night Football experiment has failed dramatically for the NFL front office, and they’d be best served to admit it. An effort to stretch dollars and sell additional ‘Color Rush’ jerseys has significantly hindered the performance NFL fans have to come to expect. Asking teams to play on Thursdays, after three days of rest and minimum preparation for their opponent is nothing but a money-making exploitation. The players already can’t stand it, and at this point I’d say fans would rather wait until the weekend if it meant a better product. As I write this Cleveland leads Baltimore 7-6 at halftime in a snoozer, and I wonder why I expected anything different. I imagine that NFL executives will rethink Thursday Night Football going forward, but their thinking with it in the first place has exposed the disconnect between those in front office, and those who are responsible for the product on the field.
The second theory, which NFL exec’s prefer to believe because it’s out of their control, is that the interest in this year’s election has impacted the ratings for numerous NFL broadcasts, since many have competed with debate coverage, etc. While elections in years past haven’t influenced NFL ratings as much as we’ve seen this year, it’s still a legitimate theory. There’s no doubt this election has been especially unique, so this likely has some merit. We’ll have to see going forward, now that the result has been decided, if the league’s ratings show an uptick.
Another theory, and the one that I subscribe to is what NFL executives, especially commissioner Roger Goodell, need to finally come to terms with: the NFL is losing it’s love-ability. As I mentioned previously, the disconnect between the front office and employees of the league has never been more obvious. On top of that, fans are growing tired of the league’s exploitation of their interest. NFL players have not shied away from speaking about the direction of the league under Roger Goodell. Saints offensive-lineman, Zach Strief, has some similar theories about why the ratings have dropped: “It feels like there’s this constant assault on the players, like we’re two entities. It’s like they don’t think they need us to do this and I think over time, as it’s constantly in the media and it’s constantly a public issue, I think the fans start to feel a similar way.” With the league’s handling of controversial issues like Tom Brady’s suspension over ‘Deflategate’, or the embarrassing handling of more serious cases like the one involving Ray Rice, the NFL front office has become an enemy, and it feels like fans are worn out.
So, are fans losing their love for the game? I don’t think that’s the case. NFL broadcasts for local teams are performing as they should. The ratings drop is likely a culmination of factors, but I strongly believe fans are growing tired of the front office’s exploitation of a game they know so many will stay loyal to.