Last year, one of the biggest stories surrounding the NFL (besides Colin Kaepernick) was its television ratings decline. With the regular season only two and a half weeks away, pundits are curious to see if the NFL rebounds.
According to AdWeek, Fox and CBS last season experienced single digit declines from the 2015 to 2016 season. ESPN’s Monday Night Football and NBC’s Sunday Night Football had it worse, dropping double digits.
There were many factors to consider for last year’s downward spiral. The election and increased media coverage in Donald Trump was one of those problems. Social stances and protests from some NFL players also provided a distraction. Tom Brady missing the first four games of the season also probably didn’t help, especially during a season which marked the first time Peyton Manning was no longer an active player.
Whether it’s for professional reasons or a secret among owners, Colin Kaepernick is not on a roster entering the 2017 season. He was seen as the face of the social movement and so without him on television each Sunday, the NFL likely feels better about its chances to reach viewers. But with Marshawn Lynch, Chris Long, Michael Bennett and others also speaking out, the question will be if enough viewers are turned off by it to watch less.
Nielsen shared some data from its new Out-of-Home reporting service, which painted a rosy picture for the NFL in one area. Viewership in bars, gyms, hotels and workplaces should increase the in-home audience for sporting events by close to 20 percent. ESPN and Fox Sports have both signed up for the service, and are counting on ratings bumps to their NFL broadcasts from that data. ABC also opted in this past Wednesday. NBC and CBS could follow in the near future.
Another smart bet by the NFL is on placement of popular teams in highly rated broadcast windows. The Dallas Cowboys not only play the New York Giants in the first Sunday night game, but they’ll be featured in an additional four primetime games.
One thing to take into account is that this will be the maiden voyage for Amazon in NFL waters. How will streaming games on their platform help viewership remains to be seen, but the league benefited by selling their digital rights to the company for $50 million, giving them an opportunity to offer all 10 Thursday Night Football games to Amazon Prime paid subscribers. According to Consumer Intelligence Research Partners, Amazon has over 80 million people subscribing to their service.
Amazon though doesn’t receive exclusivity for their streaming deal. The NFL’s television partners, CBS and NBC, also have the opportunity to stream the Thursday night games that they broadcast.
Streaming could take away viewers from traditional television and there could be other challenges affecting business as well such as bad matchups, less popular stars, injuries and the growth of NFL RedZone. Nonetheless, despite the ratings slip last season, the NFL still has an ability to lure in 20-30 million viewers for day games on any given Sunday, NBC has finished 1st on Sunday nights for six straight years, and ESPN remains on top on Monday nights.
Who’s ready for some football?