“Sunday Night Football” won the ratings war but it was still a mixed bag for the NFL on Sunday. Viewership totals were down by more than 11% when compared to last season, Deadline reports. The league has been struggling with yo-yoing ratings all season, but it has been a steady decline when compared to previous years.
On Sunday night, Drew Brees and the New Orlean Saints took on Aaron Rodgers’ undefeated Green Bay Packers in a well-hyped showdown. That helped push ratings up about 5 percent from last week’s game, bringing in about 15 million viewers, Variety says. Those are the early numbers and will likely climb in later figures. The Packers won 37-30.
But while NBC is sure to celebrate the “Sunday Night Football” ratings win, it’s still part of a worrying trend for the NFL.
Fewer people are watching the NFL. By a large margin, people are turning away from the league. When compared to last season, total viewership was down more than 11 percent and 22 percent in the demo, Deadline reported. Last season’s week three Sunday night game was between the Los Angeles Rams and Cleveland Browns. That game was up against a then-record low Emmy Awards broadcast.
Can we blame politics on the ratings problem?
While some have pointed to social justice protests causing people to turn away from the NFL, Bloomberg wrote a piece putting the blame squarely on two indirect sources: President Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden. The news agency compared ratings in 2016 to those this year and found an interesting correlation.
“Viewership is suffering because of the election, and the pandemic,” Lucas Shaw wrote. “The single biggest cause of the ratings collapse in 2016 was the election. Viewership of NFL games fell 14% that year in the weeks leading up to the election, and just 5% in the weeks after the election.”
More people are watching the news than turning to entertainment, Bloomberg surmises.
The Sports Business Journal postulated a similar theory in 2016. Namely, that viewers were being turned away by divisive politics and political upheaval. And not kneeling players during the national anthem, which began that season with then 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Mike Mulvihill, Fox Sports’ senior vice president of programming and research, told SBJ in 2016 that the year reminded him of 2000, when the George Bush-Al Gore race was left undecided until December.
“That was the only year from 2000 to 2010 where all four NFL TV packages dropped from the previous year — Fox was down 4 percent, CBS down 10 percent, ABC down 7 percent and ESPN down 11 percent,” they wrote. “It also was a year that saw World Series viewership drop by 22 percent.”
“I would really start with the election — I don’t think you have to look much deeper than that,” Mulvihill said in 2016. “Cable news has been up so much all year, going back to the earliest primary debates. So much of a share of attention has gone to the campaign, it seems like it has affected everything else.”