Streaming numbers are down. TV numbers are down. It’s gotten so bad for the NFL that executives from the league are sending memos to ownership reassuring them that the problems are temporary. Their excuse is that ratings are dropping due to the presidential race. While the debates may affect games in which the NFL and Hillary v. Trump go head to head, it cannot be the main reason.
Hillary v. Trump II had lower viewership numbers than the first debate. It didn’t help Sunday Night Football. Packers v. Giants had historically low ratings. It doesn’t make sense that the NFL got lower ratings and the second debate also got lower ratings. That just means people aren’t tuning into the NFL, period. That’s a problem.
The memo sent to league owners cited year over year drops in television ratings during the Bush/Gore presidential election in 2000. The problem is we have had three other presidential elections since then, one without an incumbent president. If the NFL is blaming low ratings across the board on the presidential election, the same dip should have occurred in 2004, especially in 2008, and in 2012. It didn’t.
It’s logical for the NFL and its TV partners to expect drops on specific debate nights. Those ratings dips should be limited to when the debate is taking place. Again, that isn’t the case. The problems are across the board, on every station and in every local market. It’s not just the national broadcasts taking a hit.
This problem isn’t localized. It’s not just the debates, or the Colin Kaepernick protests, or any other single issue. It’s the combination of market trends, bad PR, the history and inconsistency on suspensions, the changing product and bad scheduling. Some of it was self-inflicted by the NFL. Other issues were totally out of its control. But the current reason for the drop isn’t solely the presidential race.
If the NFL tries to convince its owners the current ratings problems are a blip on the radar, that is their prerogative. But it’s simply not the case. Blaming something other than a systemic issues facing entertainment and sports as a whole is short-sighted and could be dangerous for the industry. The NFL doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until next year to see if ratings recover without a presidential race. Billions of dollars are at stake.