Is the NFL Broken?
If you haven’t already heard, the NFL’s ratings are down this year.
As the numbers started rolling in one could imagine phones lighting up and plenty of executives with migraines for days. There have been many guesses as to why the NFL numbers are down and just as many articles written.
Some say it’s the election, some say it’s the new rules, some say it’s Kaepernick, but regardless of what excuses are being sold, bottom line is the NFL’s viewership is crashing. The Walking Dead season seven premiere crushed Sunday Night Football in the 18-49 group by 58% last Sunday.
Overall, the NFL ratings are down 11% from last year. Viewership is advertising and advertising is money — and that means 11% is quite a number. Imagine if your boss suddenly decided to cut your salary by 11% without much warning.
11% of the average American workforce salary is around $3600. Now imagine 11% of $10 billion. Safe to say migraines are common right now at NFL HQ. There have been many theories as to why and some of them make a lot of sense. Truth is, it’s probably a combination of them all and not just one.
ESPN has continually been the NFL apologist and I understand why, stating on Mike and Mike with Louis Riddick that Fantasy Football has really done some damage with the NFL. A game like the Seahawks and Cardinals on Sunday Night Football is now judged as “boring,” when just a decade ago it would have been labeled a “defensive battle”.
It was also stated that nostalgia is missing while watching these games because the back breaking, season ending hits have all but vanished from the game. The safety of the game has brought the physical action to a halt. NFL films highlight shows were mentioned where in slow motion you would see the bone jarring hits of guys like Ronnie Lott and Jack Tatum. People tuned in for the hits, the crashes, the violent defensive cracks on receivers.
The lack of physical violence and the popularity of fantasy football, they said, add up to the 11%.
What Mike and Mike never examined — and I understand why — is that the NFL has over-saturated the airwaves. There are multiple showcase games per week and there just isn’t enough star power to drive that much NFL in one week. It’s very rare in any league.
Joined with bad press, concussion awareness, the election, sentiment over public displays of protest, the banning of touchdown celebrations, fantasy football and complaints of bad officiating — it could start to add up to 11%.
The NFL has stayed a reactive league through all the controversy. They only reacted to the domestic violence instead of proactively developing an acceptable method of suspension by the league, the fans and the players.
They only reacted to the concussion talk instead of proactively searching for a better way for more protection. The concussion evidence was brought to the NFL years prior and they ignored it. Then the news went public and they reacted to it.
They did the same thing with Ray Rice. The video showed up on the NFL’s doorstep before we saw it and they ignored it until it went public, then they reacted to it. It certainly seemed that they didn’t learn anything because they did it again with Josh Brown. A good business is run proactively and not reactively and it is just now starting to come back on the NFL.
New safety rules on hitting have only exacerbated the stat numbers for the biggest scoring positions in fantasy football leagues. These changes were meant to help protect players and have made it difficult to defend receivers and hit quarterbacks. We have seen more and more 5,000 yard passing seasons in the last few years. It has become a passing and scoring league and as fans, we have become used to it, it has now become the norm.
So when a snoozer like the Seahawks and Cardinals put together last Sunday comes around, it sticks out like a sore thumb. But if ESPN, and more specifically Mike and Mike in the Morning, are correct and fantasy football and safety rule changes have hurt the NFL’s ratings, then we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the NFL.
The rules are not going to go back, they are not going to change back to ever allow such hits again. And Fantasy football is not going to go away. It has become a billion dollar industry and one that the NFL themselves have invested in. Every time there is a boring game, especially on television, it is going to be fire on social media and fans are going to rip it apart.
If you are an avid fantasy footballer, there are so many outlets for stats and game updates, why watch the game anyway?
Does the NFL stand for ‘Not For Long?’
The younger crowd (18-49) is not watching the NFL. They are watching The Walking Dead.
The NFL is relying on the 50- 70 crowd for ratings and they seem to be engrossed in the election currently. A one year ratings decline isn’t enough to say this is “it” for the NFL, but if the ratings continue to fall next season, especially if by the end of this season it does not rebound a little, then there could be a few more eyebrows raised.
The NFL is not going to stop, even 5 years of ratings decline isn’t enough to make the NFL shut its doors. However, it could be the beginning of the end. What is even more alarming is that the 18-49 crowd is watching something else on Sunday Night.
58% is a huge and scary amount of people to tune into something else, even if it is as popular as The Walking Dead. The NFL should be more worried about attracting a younger crowd then attracting more advertisers.
Of course, it will have to get much worse before it gets better.
It is a reactive league.