Saturday, January 13, 2018

Why NFL Ratings Were Down This Season

Although the seriousness of the impact of football players winding up with CTE and other physical and mental problems in later years is not to be overlooked, the media needs to make this an issue in places other than TV ratings discussions.

There are other reasons why NFL regular season ratings dropped for the year, while NBA and MLB ratings are on the upswing.

It was interesting to see the ratings concerns being reflected by the networks during the final month of the regular season, especially by NBC. Despite being a consistent winner of the overall ratings on Sunday nights with Sunday Night Football, NBC was clearly well aware of the importance.

Their decision to keep Dallas vs. Oakland instead of flexing for a more important (and available) game because of the national strength of those two teams regardless of their record was one example.

Even more significant was the decision not to bother with a Sunday night game during the final week of the season.

The excuse of the possibility of the game they select being meaningless by the time it happens would have carried some weight if this was the first year of Sunday Night Football. It's not like that situation only existed for this season. This time around it was a convenient excuse. It was New Year's Eve, and TV ratings traditionally are low on that night, even for sports telecasts. The real reason to blow off a telecast that night was so that lower ratings would not pull down the season average and potentially lower advertising revenue for the 2018 season telecasts.

As for the regular season ratings being down across all networks, the real reason appears to be the bigger TV markets and their level of interest specific to this season.

Both New York City teams had poor seasons, which takes away many "casual" fans who watch more when their team is in contention. Usually at least one of their teams does better. Same story in Chicago, San Francisco, and Detroit, where it was a long season in those three large markets as well.

Speaking of large markets, there is Los Angeles, in its first year (in more than 25 years) with two teams which couldn't fill their seats for home games. There were instances where "out of town" NFL telecasts had higher ratings in Los Angeles than a telecast of the local team at the same time. There were a couple of Sunday where because of Rams or Chargers telecasts the market was deprived of a much better regional or national telecast.

We have Houston and several Texas TV markets that had the disaster of Harvey hit at the start of the season, combined with a less than expected season for the Texans.

Keep in mind that we just named six of the top ten TV markets in the country, all with understandable reasons to bring fewer eyeballs to the TV ratings.

Same story in Florida markets, where Irma forced postponement of the Dolphins and Buccaneers openers before the Dolphins had another poor season. Add in St. Louis, where fans are fed up with the NFL following the loss of the Rams, even to the point where some of the Rams games, during a successful season, were not aired.

Neither Washington, Baltimore, or the national draw Green Bay made the playoffs. Cleveland's team failed to win a game. Those are all large TV markets, with fewer fans interested in watching meaningless games for their teams.

There is one more factor which is overlooked. Consider the increase in live streaming, now that Verizon and Amazon showed large audiences watching the telecasts without using their TV's. And, of course, the millions of cord-cutters who either no longer watch or watch "out of home" every week.

Too early to tell, but if the 2018 season brings improvement from at least some of the big market teams, a stronger prime time schedule of games, and, hopefully, no major disasters, we'll see a nice rebound in the NFL ratings.

One thing will see is a new analyst for Monday Night Football to replace Jon Gruden. The first opportunity is being given to Matt Hasselbeck, who will do so for ESPN's telecast of the Pro Bowl in two weeks. At the very least, it gives some fans a reason to actually watch the Pro Bowl telecast.

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