TV Viewership of NFL Football Declines Double Digits

NFL's 'TNF' ratings dropped 15% over last 5 years.
By Charles Hall

Major sports such as professional football were once considered to be exclusively available on linear pay and broadcast TV. Professional American NFL football as recently as last year was considered to be immune from a loss of eyeballs but that has suddenly changed this year.

For decades viewership of NFL games has grown and grown but this year it has hit a stumbling block. NFL viewership is dropping by double digits, according to research that CivicScience conducted on behalf of SportsBusiness Journal/Daily. Each of the league’s three prime-time series of games have posted double-digit percentage drops in viewers, “a shocking situation that’s virtually unheard of for America’s top sports property,” according to SportsBusiness Journal/Daily.

– The live audience for Monday Night Football, the highest-rated show for primetime TV during the last five years, is down an unbelievable 19%.

– Sunday Night Football has had a 10% drop in ratings so far this year.

– Thursday Night Football has had a 15% decline.

This is the first year that the NFL has streamed games for free live on Twitter with an average audience of about 2 million people. CivicScience said 49% of viewers are streaming the same amount or less of live sports compared with last year and 9% of NFL fans are streaming more live sports. An important finding is that 26% of fans who said they follow the NFL closely are watching less live sports on TV.

Blame it on the crazy political season where players openly refuse to stand for the national anthem or the weather or the Olympics or the overexposure of football on TV – wall-to-wall with college ball on Saturdays and wall-to-wall with pro ball on Sundays followed by more pro football on Monday night and again on Thursday night – or whatever – but the declines are a major jolt to the linear pay and broadcast industry plus their advertisers.

The question is what are viewers doing during those times? Watching something else as would appear probable from consumers’ addiction to TV sets or doing something on their smartphones as people have become seemingly addicted to them but if the trend continues, the advertisers that support live NFL football have a big problem – as will owners of NFL teams, management, coaches and their players.

The opinion here is that the younger set – the Millennials – are not as addicted to football as their elders are but that is one person’s opinion without any factual basis. Once a major football addict that watched every possible pro game and subscribed to DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket that showed most every NFL game, we find we have declining interests in watching football games. And we are no Millennial – actually much closer to being a Centennial than a Millennial.

The SportsBusiness Journal/Daily says the decline in viewing is across the entire sports scene:

– The Summer Olympics were down double digits in viewership from the prior summer Olympics.

– “Sunday Night Baseball” had its lowest viewership average in over a decade.

– Six NASCAR races from August 21 to September 25 had double-digit viewership declines in race-to-race comparisons.

– Four prime-time UFC telecasts registered a combined 10% viewership drop this year.

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Related: Report: The State of Live TV Doesn’t Look Good

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