The Corner

Culture

Roger Goodell Feels a Great Disturbance in the Force, Er, Profits

From the Thursday Morning Jolt:

Roger Goodell Feels a Great Disturbance in the Force, Er, Profits

Everyone associated with the National Football Leagues has to be worried about this.

One of the current parlor games playing out in sports media executive suites is why the NFL’s television ratings have dramatically fallen through the first four weeks of the season. Most notably, each of the league’s primetime showcases (Sunday Night FootballMonday Night Football and Thursday Night Football) are down double-digit percentage drops in viewers. In a particularly troubling trend, ratings for Monday Night Football were down 19% prior to Monday’s Giants-Vikings game, including the lowest-ever viewership in the history of the series when just 8.047 million viewers watched the Saints-Falcons. (That game went head-to-head with the first Presidential debate.) The Giants-Vikings drew a 9.1 overnight rating on Monday, which was the highest MNF overnight of the year. That’s the good news. The bad news? It was still down 8% from the 9.9 for last year’s Week 4 matchup (Seahawks-Lions) that didn’t feature the New York market.

More troubling data: NBC’s Sunday Night Football drew an 11.0 overnight for Steelers-Chiefs on Sunday, down 26% from the same window last year with the Saints-Cowboys. That’s an alarming drop, even with Dallas as the NFL’s best television draw and a blowout game. (The NBC Sports p.r. department said in a release that the Steelers’ 22–0 first quarter was the most-lopsided opening quarter in 155 NBC SNF games. One can admire the rapid response team, but you can’t spin lemonade out of tomato juice.)

There’s probably more than one reason, which means it’s oversimplifying it to say Colin Kaepernick and kneeling NFL players are driving way football fans. But it’s a factor, and maybe the biggest factor.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that nearly one-third (32%) of American adults say they are less likely to watch an NFL game because of the growing number of Black Lives Matter protests by players on the field. Only 13% say they are more likely to watch a game because of the protests. Just over half (52%) say the protests have no impact on their viewing decisions.

Looks like I’m not the only one who just wants to enjoy watching the game.

Last week on the pop culture podcast, we asked whether NFL Red Zone – commercial free! –  is now a preferable option to watching a game that doesn’t feature your favorite team.

One other factor: I hate the Thursday night games and I know I’m not alone. The players hate having to take the pounding of a game with just three days’ rest; some even contend the league is wildly hypocritical to say they want to avoid injuries but expect players to play two games a five-day span. While there are occasional exceptions, most weeks the teams playing on Thursday look sloppy and unprepared. Then they go into a long, nine-day stretch before their next game, having a natural advantage and extra preparation time for their next opponent.*

I always thought one of the strengths of football, both professional and college, was the season’s weekly rhythm. Mondays bring dissection of yesterday’s game, agonizing calls to sports radio, and hopefully one good game that night. Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, the team practices and the fan’s level of interest lays fallow. Then as Thursday and Friday roll around, the buzz increases. The talking heads on the sports channels and columnists make their picks, and the injury lists get updated. Fantasy players finalize their rosters. Friday night brings high school football, Saturday brings college football, and Sunday morning brings the pre-game shows for the professionals. The excitement builds. Tailgating meals are prepared, friends are invited over, lucky jerseys are fished out of the laundry pile, tables are reserved. Then for three hours on Sunday afternoon, it’s passion and excitement, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Baseball, basketball, hockey – they’re all great sports, but they have several games a week in their seasons. Inevitably, some game will conflict with real life; it’s hard for every game to be a big deal or high states. The 11-game college schedule and the 16-game NFL schedule mean that every win or loss could be the one that keeps your team out of the postseason.

*Unless it’s the New York Jets, who have played terribly after Thursday games and bye weeks for several years.

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