The Corner

NFL Ratings Keep Falling — Why?

The news out of the NFL is bad, and it keeps getting worse:

The NFL has a ratings problem. The causes are many, and the leading cause is certainly up for debate. But that isn’t stopping the NFL from denying that the problem has some controversial undercurrents – or that the problem exists in the first place.

Sunday Night Football between the Green Bay Packers and New York Giants drew a 10.2 overnight rating as it mostly went up against the second presidential debate, according to Sports Media Watch. It’s a steep drop from 13.1 in Week 5 of the 2015 season and the lowest overnight rating since Week 8 of the 2013 season.

ESPN is arguably hardest hit:

Surveying the ratings landscape for Monday Night Football and the NFL this season, you wouldn’t be blamed for mistaking it for the barren wasteland of the Mad Max movies rather than America’s most popular sport.

Back in early September, MNF posted its lowest numbers ever (8.3 rating) for a Week 2 game since ESPN acquired the rights in 2006. Then, going against the first presidential debate late last month, Monday Night Football set an all-time ratings low with barely 8 million total viewers. Now, last night’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Carolina Panthers has scored MNF‘s lowest Week 5 ratings in ESPN history.

In a leaked internal memo, the NFL blames much of the ratings hit on the presidential race, different matchups, and points to the historic ratings highs of recent years. Moreover, it claims that its own “data” shows that player protests are not a factor, that fans aren’t tuning out because the league is relaxing its notorious restrictions on player self-expression so long as those players are social justice warriors. 

While it’s difficult to explain the behavior of millions of people by reference to any single cause, I’m dubious of the NFL’s attempt to rule out player protests as offering any explanation for the ratings drop. The NFL isn’t the NBA. Its fan base isn’t as clustered in progressive urban centers but is far more equitably distributed across the country. Thus, it plays a doubly dangerous game by embracing the social justice left. It stands to alienate more fans than it attracts, and it’s in bed with a cultural force that ultimately despises the league itself. Social justice warriors hope to destroy football. They don’t want what’s best for the league or the sport. Instead, they want to use it until they kill it. 

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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