The NFL is making headlines again, but thankfully not for scandals and social movements this time. This time, the story is the nosedive in viewership in recent years – a story that has come to the forefront this season, with multiple news sources have reporting on it.
Update on year to year NFL viewership through Week 7
— Michael Mulvihill (@mulvihill79) October 25, 2016
The NFL has been quick to point fingers at the election for drawing the public eye, stating that debates and politically-fueled news sources are drawing more viewers than the pigskin. But there is cause for concern and reason to believe this may not be the case. One fan-fueled theory is that the protests Colin Kaepernick has sparked across the league have brought a sense of seriousness that fans are trying to escape in football. In a world filled with riots, politics, and tragedy, many people tune in to football to escape that.
I would counter, however, that the NFL is not the right place to look for escapism. NFL players are in a constant river of scandal: spousal abuse, child abuse, animal abuse, gun violence, overdose, and cheating. You name it, someone in the NFL has done it, and done it badly enough to get caught and thrown into the national spotlight. Kaepernick’s protests just happen to be worse, in the public’s eye, because he is flaunting his politics in the face of the NFL and it’s fans. I’m not here to tell you what to think about his protest, but to say he is the cause of the decline in the NFL is a fallacy at best.
So if it isn’t politics and protests, what is it? In the film Concussion, Dr. Omalu (Will Smith) said it best; “The NFL owns a day of the week. The same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.” To take it a step further, fans can no longer set aside Sunday afternoon every week and assume their team is playing. There’s Sunday night, Monday night and now, Thursday night. Devoting three nights every week to football is a huge commitment. With the low quality games we’ve seen in prime time this season, three nights is way too much to ask.
I love football. In spite of all of its flaws – and knowing full well the physical repercussions players face – nothing will get me up off my couch screaming at a screen faster than a Rodgers-to-Rodgers overtime Hail Mary pass.
Even so, this isn’t enough to get me to sell my soul to DirecTV to get access to watch. I am not a local fan, so access to all Packer games would require Sunday Ticket. I don’t even purchase regular cable, so that means $100+/month to catch the Green and Gold. We do have a satellite, which picks up the news channels, so I get lucky on Thursday and Sunday nights, but those games represent a precious few in the full season. What is a fan to do?
Those who cannot afford the steep price of the NFL has cornered them in to congregate in local bars, or streaming (usually illegally) online. Cable television is a dying art. Now is the time of the internet, and streaming is king. The NFL does offer a streaming package…if you live outside the scope of DirecTV that is. I would happily fork over a monthly fee to watch the games I want to see live and spoiler free, but the NFL is still living in the dark ages.
I understand there are contracts and obligations to be fulfilled, but I would argue that this is the broken leg that the NFL needs to splint to fix their ratings. Offer viewing options that your fans can actually utilize, and you’ll see happier fans. I recognize that this is not the only flaw the NFL is facing right now, and it definitely won’t permanently fix the problem. The future is unclear for this game, but I know that this generation lives online – not in the cable lines – and the NFL needs to wake up and smell the pumpkin spice latte.
All of this to say that availability plays as much a role as anything else in the decline of NFL viewership. What do you think are the reasons for decline in viewership? Let us know in the comments.