Quality of play, not protests, reason for NFL ratings dip


Jordan Howard (No. 24) of the Chicago Bears splits defense as NFL ratings drop this season. Photo via NFL.com.

“Week 8” of the NFL season is in the books, and one thing we have learned is that people aren’t watching.
According to Sports Illustrated, primetime NFL games have had double-digit ratings decreases this season, with “Monday Night Football” ratings down 24 percent from this time last season. “Thursday Night Football” ratings are down 18 percent and “Sunday Night Football” is down 19 percent.
A Seton Hall Sports Poll, conducted from Oct. 24-26, collected data stating that 56 percent of those surveyed have tuned out of NFL broadcasts because of the athletes not standing during the National Anthem. While this has become a polarizing topic over the first two months of the season, it isn’t the major reason why fans are not tuning in.

Frankly, the games this year have not been very competitive. Out of 26 primetime games this season, just eight have been decided by one possession, while one game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals ended in a dull 6-6 tie. It’s easy to conclude that fans will change the channel from an uncompetitive game. That’s what has been happening this season.

However, many fans haven’t been tuning in to begin with. This can be attributed to outside factors, such as the ongoing coverage of the presidential election and the MLB playoffs.The NFL can’t control these things, but it can control the matchups.

I don’t know about you, but I won’t be planning my Thursday night around a Titans-Jaguars game. Now, I know not every primetime game is going to feature a must-see game, but this year feels like there are more matchups that just don’t generate interest. Maybe that is a result of no team, aside from the New England Patriots, really being able to assert its dominance within the spectrum of the league. Not a whole lot of parity exists in the NFL right now, and the ratings are suffering as a result.

I’ll give praise to “Sunday Night Football.” Out of the three primetime slots during each week, they normally feature the best matchup. However, when it comes to “Monday Night Football,” I’d rather watch paint dry.

The Monday Night Football matchups this season and in recent seasons have been consistently unappealing. ESPN hypes it up for what it used to be, which was the marquee matchup each week. Nowadays, it is mostly just an afterthought.

This season, there have been nine “Monday Night Football” games. Out of those nine, only two have been decided by less than 13 points. To make things worse, according to Forbes, one of those games – a “Week 5” matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers – had the worst ratings for a Week 5 matchup since ESPN got the rights to “Monday Night Football” in 2006.

According to CNN Money, a “Week 3” matchup between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints had the lowest viewership for ESPN in the past 25 years. This came as a result of the game going up against the first Presidential debate. While there wasn’t much the network could do, it still doesn’t bode well that their two most competitive games – as the Falcons-Saints matchup was the second closest game in terms of score so far this season – each set record lows in terms of ratings.

“Thursday Night Football” tries to bring in viewers by focusing primarily on divisional matchups. At times, however, the divisional matchups they feature still aren’t appealing. For example, the Cardinals have been underwhelming so far, but everyone knows they can still bully around a weak San Francisco 49ers team, making that matchup uninteresting.

It’s hard for the NFL, especially this season, to consistently show the best team in primetime week after week. Until the product on the field improves, though, those ratings won’t be getting better.

Matt Ambrose is a journalism major from Exeter, N.H. He can be reached at matthew.ambrose1@student.shu.edu or on Twitter @mambrose97.

Author: Matt Ambrose

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  1. Keep whistling past the graveyard, Matt.
    The prime reason the rating are tanking this year is because of the protests.
    It’s very simple.

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    • Matt, you are about 7 weeks behind with this article and this article’s assertion. There have been countless polls and definitive proof that the protests are the single largest factor in the ratings being down.
      You seem to be reporting what the left wing sports and main stream media have been trying to sell all season. The thing is……..IT’S THE PROTESTS!!! Always was the protests, is the protests, will be the protests.
      People don’t like having left wing political activism as part of their Sunday NFL experience. Many of us resent the NFL messing with our entertainment. Football is football. Not social antiAmerican social activism.
      Kapernick will be remembered as the idiot that ruined the NFL. He’s already done irreperable damage; but the NFL is more to blame for allowing their employee’s to offend their customers.

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  2. I consider myself a centrist.. liberal-leaning in some areas.. conservative-leaning in others. For me and the individuals who I’ve talked to, the reason for the NFL ratings decline is very clear, we turn on sports as a distraction from the static and noise of life. The player protests have served to being an air of politics into our sports, our escape, and instead of complaining, we are simply turning to other ways to pass the time. For me, it has been the MLB playoffs, NHRA drag racing, and NHL hockey. I can watch any of those and enjoy my escape from the politics that are now a part of NFL life. Indeed, family time and time to work on those unfinished projects in the garage have never been more enjoyable either. I never thought I would do it but for those of us who have, there is really no need to turn back. BuhBye, NFL!

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