Super Bowl XLIX in 2015 was the most viewed league championship, with 114.4 million people tuning in to watch the Patriots vs. the Seahawks. In 2016, 111.9 million viewers came back for more, with this turnout still being the third largest in the championship’s existent. With these numbers in mind, it’s hard to believe that National Football League ratings are down 11 percent through the first six weeks of the current season.
And yet when you take into account other variables outside the league it isn’t. There are plenty of reasons why people might be turning games off or failing to watch them at all. The most obvious of these is the upcoming presidential election.
Over 80 million people watched the first debate, the highest since Reagan vs. Carter, and had nearly 20 million more viewers than Obama and Romney did during their first debate.
Another affecting circumstance is the current playoff picture in Major League Baseball. The Cleveland Indians won their last world series in 1948 and the Chicago Cubs haven’t won a pennant since 1945, whilst looking to end a 108 year-long world series drought.
Among the more controversial reasons, a poll taken in early October had 32 percent of people say they were less likely to watch the NFL because of the recent player protests.
The NFL should be concerned about their ratings drop and desperately need to change their old ways, but with time their ratings should bounce back.
As the World Series and the election come to a close, the NFL will have much less competition for attention and this will naturally bring viewers back to football. These things are out of the NFL’s control but to really increase their ratings to what they once were the league will have to take action on other fronts.
In reference to the recent player’s protests of the national anthem, those viewers may never come back. NFL players are citizens of this free country and should be allowed to peacefully protest through whatever platform they choose, regardless of what others think of how they practice their right.
The NFL may not like it but there comes a point where you can’t deliberately silence your employees, and I don’t remember a single player getting asked to give up their freedom of speech to be in the league.
What the NFL can control, however, is changing the way the game is played, especially through officiating. The number of penalties in an NFL game has been increasing over the past few years and there is nothing a fan hates more than a flag-happy referee. While flag-throwing is actually down slightly from last season, referees still average nearly two more penalties per game than they did in 2013.
Player celebrations are another issue pertaining to the rise in unneeded penalties. But the NFL has never been known for driving a ‘classy’ product, and most fans probably wouldn’t consider themselves a civilized clientele. Even players like Terrell Owens, who felt widespread hate, definitely drew fans to watch games because of his outrageous personality.
One last thing the league can do is cut down on the product. Your average fan can access the NFL from anywhere, while flicking between regular season games three times a week. In-week analytics, live-streaming coverage and the recent increase in mobile apps allow fans to get their football ‘fix’ whenever they want. By cutting down on the amount of product allowed to the market, their average viewership per event will increase.
The NFL has countless in-league and societal reasons to be of concern for their business, but most of these problems are solvable. Current league commissioner Roger Goodell has been inflexible on making necessary changes in the past. Mr. Goodell said earlier this week the NFL “will not make excuses” but it remains to be seen whether he will be able to put his own success, regarding his over $30 million salary, on the line for the salvation of the league.
Brooks Maynard is junior journalism major from Raleigh, North Carolina.