The NFL is not having trouble selling advertisements. Marketing partners, media — including Fields of Green — and experts thought the NFL was Teflon. Maybe everyone needs to step back and realize that sometimes market trends are stronger than the biggest sport in the United States. Ratings for NFL week one dropped — in some cases precipitously — almost across the board. The NFL losing viewers isn’t a canary in the coal mine. It’s past that. It’s a real sign the problems created by emerging market trends aren’t going away.
Thursday Night Football was down eight-percent from the previous year. Sunday Night football was a close game decided at the final seconds. It had a nationally followed team in the Patriots. The Cardinals are a Super Bowl contender. There was drama with Jimmy Garoppolo’s first start during the Brady suspension. Ratings were down 18-percent for the all-important 18-49 demographic. Both games on Monday night had ratings drops as well. There was only one time-frame where ratings increased and that was Sunday afternoon. That was thanks to the Giants v. Cowboys match-up.
There is an argument that the ratings drops don’t matter because the NFL still greatly out-rates every other piece of programming. That is not something the league should fall back on. The league and its television partners negotiate their advertising and sponsorship deals based on viewership projections. The NFL, ESPN, CBS, and Fox aren’t projecting ratings drops as their advertising fees increase. Those projections have to show flat or increasing viewership.
There are other issues that could be contribute to the ratings dip. The NFL hasn’t exactly been doing well in terms of public perception for a few years now. We don’t need to run through the litany of issues they faced. Some in the media have officially turned against Goodell and his regime. If the NFL can’t slow down that public perception and media backlash, it will contribute to ratings losses.
The marquee games may have also lacked star power — some of it by the NFL’s own doing. There was no Peyton Manning against the Panthers on Thursday night. Tom Brady was suspended for Sunday Night’s opener. The Rams and the Niners started Case Keenum and Blaine Gabbert at quarterback. Scheduling didn’t help the ratings — nor did the NFL’s insistence on suspending one of its biggest stars.
Those only slightly contribute to ratings drops as large as what the NFL saw this week. It always comes back to cord cutters, streaming and market trends in media in sports. The NFL is at least attempting to combat those trends and will start Thursday Night with streaming a game on Twitter for the first time. However, even that might not save ratings this year. It’s time to see year-over-year ratings drops as the new normal.