Primetime is no more in the NFL. NFL viewer ratings have plummeted in all aspects this year, especially games that are played on Thursday, Sunday and Monday Night. Roger Goodell may have the best product in America, but the NFL is failing miserably this year. Viewership has been down on both FOX and CBS on Sunday’s as well, showing a league wide decline in viewership. The NFL, once the powerhouse of the major sports is finally showing some decline, and their grip on NFL fans everywhere might be loosening.
The NFL essentially owns a day of the week in television, Sundays. They make mega money off of advertisements, making anywhere from $300,000 to $700,000 per thirty second ad. However, the NFL may start to see a decline in revenue as their viewers decline. Once a huge marketing opportunity to advertise during these games, companies might want to re-think their strategy. From 2015 to 2016, the NFL has seen the regionalized Sunday games drop percentage in viewership from both CBS and FOX. So far, FOX has only seen a 1% decline, but CBS is currently at 9%. The NFL is losing viewers on Sundays, despite the fact that these games are designed to fit fans in the area.
Fans have been getting frustrated with the constant sagas produced by the NFL, from Ray Rice to Deflategate, to now Josh Brown and his admission of being an abuser. These sagas, leading to 24/7 news coverage have turned casual fans away from the NFL, and its power hungry commissioner. These issues have not only brought a negative light towards the NFL, but they have caused legal investigations and brought these issues to national prominence. NFL arrests have become a thing that is more monitored and players like Greg Hardy have drawn negative attention for being allowed to play, despite their domestic issues.
The bigger problem for the NFL is within its primetime games. Thursday Night football has seen an 18% decline in viewership and Sunday Night Football has seen a 19% decline. While these declines are massive, the pale in comparison to the 24% decline on Monday Night football. Almost a quarter of the viewership has been lost on Monday Nights, and it begs the question as to why. First off, game selection on these three primetime slates is part of the problem. Week 1, Monday Night Football, and fans are graced to the Rams and the 49ers, two of the worst teams in football, neither that has a viable Quarterback. Yet, that’s the primetime game. This upcoming Thursday, The Titans and Jaguars is another example of poor game selection in a primetime spot. The NFL seems to be looking to gain viewership on less popular games by throwing them in on these time slots and it is backfiring horribly. Roger Goodell and the rest of the NFL need to realize that by putting these games on at these times, uninterested fans do not turn to another game, but are forced to leave football since no other game is offered.
Other awful primetime games, such as Bengals vs Dolphins, 49ers vs Cardinals, Jets vs Cardinals and Bears vs. Eagles have shown the NFL’s inability to gain viewers with these disappointing teams. However, this is also falls on the strength of the league. To a certain extent, the league is extremely top-heavy, with perennial powerhouses such as Denver, New England, Green Bay, and Seattle. Because of this, teams such as Jacksonville, Miami and San Francisco have struggled many years in a row. The lack of parody in the NFL has caused these uneven matchups to occur, or sometimes just two teams that are in the middle of a rebuild. This speaks to the talent and the scouting of these teams rather than the business of the NFL. However, the NFL’s inability to market players, and their quick trigger to discipline them is also part of the problem.
According to Spotrac, the NFL has fined players over $18 million dollars through week six of this season. These fines range from drug and PED suspensions, to illegal hits, to penalties. While players already receive the penalty on the field and it affects the game, the NFL goes further than that to fine them for these actions after. Some of these fines are justified, such as illegal hits, or intentional injury of players (Vontaze Burfict was fined $75,0000) make sense. However, Tom Savage, the third string Quarterback for Houston was fined $18,231 for tripping a player this preseason. A Quarterback. After a while, these excessive fines frustrate the players, but they also take the fun out of the game. The banning of certain celebrations, has led to players being find for one thing that people love to watch: The Touchdown Dance. But slowly, this is being phased out because players such as Antonio Brown are fined $24,309 for simply celebrating a score. Players no longer want to risk the fact that they’ll be fined as their salaries already aren’t guaranteed, and it shows. These excessive fines lead to taking enjoyment out of the game, and players are forced to play differently. The NFL’s agenda shows that they struggle to crack down on domestic violence but like to strike down on uniform violations, and it is a turn off for viewers.
Roger Goodell and his relationship with players is another reason that the NFL is starting to show a decline. Players aren’t marketed by the NFL, and many such as Richard Sherman have spoken out against many of the NFL’s changes. Sherman said of Thursday games, “You talk about player safety, but you want to extend the season and add Thursday games? It’s talking out of both sides of your mouth.” Sherman’s displeasure is echoed by many other players across the league, and Goodell is paying for it. The relationship between the two has become dysfunctional, and when Goodell and the NFL attack a fan favorite such as Tom Brady, it angers the fans and the players more than it helps the NFL prove a point.
The NFL, the owner of Sundays, it starting to lose its grasp on their viewers. While these changes aren’t permanent, they clearly show that the NFL has a problem it needs to fix. Make the NFL Fun Again? Not exactly. But by stopping the crackdown on uniform violations and celebrations and allowing it to be a player’s league, the NFL could bring itself back to the glory days.