In the midst of the most talked about and controversial presidential election ever, the National Football League has seen one of their biggest rating drops since 2008 and they need to be worried. The league is known for having ratings drop in election years, but there is a different feel this time.
Down 11 percent across ESPN, CBS, FOX and NBC viewership through the league’s first six weeks, this is nothing new for the NFL. Ratings have slowly been dropping the last few years, but more than ever now in 2016.
Because of the multitude of internal and external factors that have been taking place to drop the ratings, the NFL needs to be concerned. There are a handful of issues that require fixing, and it all starts at the top with commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell has been in charge of a front office that has given the NFL a bad reputation since beginning his tenure in 2006. Due to issues of domestic violence, the mishandling of concussion protocol, suspensions, oversaturation, Thursday night games producing non-competitive bouts, various investigation mishandling and now the National Anthem protests, Goodell has become the one of the most hated professional sports commissioners in recent history.
While not everything is Goodell’s fault, he has still failed to use his executive power to solve elongated issues through progressive practices. Unlike NBA commissioner Adam Silver, who has earned fans’ respect by handling distracting situations, like banning former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling being recorded saying racist remarks and removing the NBA all-star game from Charlotte due to HB2 protests.
Instead, Goodell has been linked to negative protests with the Patriot’s DeflateGate, the Saint’s BountyGate and lack of suspensions for domestic violence, ultimately tainting the league’s once respected name.
Not only has the NFL been linked to these negative controversies, but they have failed to take any kind of responsibility for the mistakes they’ve made. The NFL has consistently denied any wrongdoing, thus causing fans to feel like they have no influence.
Trying to compete with the NBA’s constant expansion overseas, the NFL has had games played in London the last three years, and are planning to play in Mexico and China. But this attempt at international expansion is unnecessary. For a league that is already so nationally known, it just creates oversaturation and makes little sense in countries that don’t care for football as a culture.
Since former running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games over elevator footage that surfaced of him punching his wife, fans were outraged in the lack of punishment the NFL placed on Rice. The Baltimore Ravens later cut Rice and he hasn’t seen NFL action since.
Former Carolina Panthers defensive-end Greg Hardy was also accused of domestic abuse, but unlike Rice who hasn’t played and has become a voice for victims, Hardy was given a second chance by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Despite Hardy’s disarrayed lack of showing any remorse for his inexcusable actions, which obviously was detested by the majority of fans.
Now, the league is under scrutiny with kicker Josh Brown admitting to abusing his wife. Journal entries of Brown’s disturbing descriptions of his domestic abuse were recently released, even though he was arrested in May 2015. Once again, the NFL had a chance to do right in a situation but instead displayed ignorance and it took a week for the New York Giants to cut Brown. All to hide the true faces of their revered players.
Not only have issues been off the field, but on the field as well. Once known as the most physical game to play, football has now become soft. Penalty flags have been tossed around carelessly, and players and fan bases have become sick of the league constituting every minor action during a game.
Early retirements from star players such as wide receiver Calvin Johnson and running back Marshawn Lynch have exemplified the league’s player mistreatment. They told late night hosts and news outlets that their choices are due in large part of the NFL not placing player safety first and foremost.
Through the first six weeks, officials have assessed 1,288 penalties compared to 1,357 all of last season. Penalties have been increasing at an astonishing rate and it is not just a coincidence. The NFL wants to have control over all their players, and fans have taken notice.
Just three weeks ago, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. told reporters he is “not having fun anymore” while playing the game that has always overcome him with joy and purpose. Part of the reason for that is because all of the countless fines being thrown at players, including OBJ’s seven in two seasons, for overly conservative concerns.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry that basically owns a day of the week. Fans look forward to Sunday to root on their favorite teams, and all they want the NFL to be is an enjoyable, uninhibited pastime.
Instead, the NFL has become a Pandora’s box of controversy. Many are saying ratings are down because of the presidential election or the National Anthem protests, but that isn’t the case.
The real reason is because the NFL has forgotten about the one thing that directly correlates to their profit margin: their loyal fans.
Current TV contracts for the NFL are expiring in 2021 and 2022 and will be up for renewal to air NFL games, but the league doesn’t seem to be overly concerned.
“There a lot of factors to be considered,” Goodell said. “We don’t make excuses. We try to figure out what’s changing.”
However, the NFL has every reason to be distressed if the league and its unjust leader don’t change the way they are running things.
Jason Huber is junior journalism major from Huntersville, North Carolina.