The NFL owners meet this week in Houston to discuss the future of the most profitable, dominant entity in sports. Despite that label, there are a number of pressing issues, the first being the league’s declining ratings.
In an internal memo the league sent out last week, the decline is mostly blamed on the election. That’s a viable explanation given the incredible interest in the Presidential race and the great numbers CNN and other cable news networks have seen as a result. However, Sunday Night Football falling to a five-year low this week–even lower than two weeks ago when it went up against the second debate–is cause for alarm.
So is the drop-off in Google searches for fantasy football, which indicates that something bigger is at play than just the election. Perhaps the biggest problem, at least for prime-time games, is that the games themselves aren’t that good. Last year, I wrote that the NFL needed to allow flex scheduling for Monday Night Football and that argument still holds up well. Perhaps the league will get more liberal with its regulations, but I wouldn’t expect any sweeping changes out of these meetings. It’s still too early to say for sure what has caused the downturn and the owners will likely only see cause for alarm if the ratings don’t rebound in the second half of the season, after November 8.
The ratings are such a big concern that two potential relocations–one being to Las Vegas–don’t even seem like that big a topic of discussion. Even if the owners are not voting on whether or not the Oakland Raiders move to Las Vegas this week, needless to say they will be discussing the merits of the move after a bill clearing the path for a stadium was passed by the Nevada State Senate and Gov. Brian Sandoval. At this point, it seems to have some momentum and unless the city of Oakland pulls off a miracle, the Raiders are probably going to move.
There’s also an impending vote in San Diego on November 8. A recent poll says that 41 percent are against funding a new Chargers’ stadium with a tax increase while 36 percent are for it with 23 percent undecided. If the measure does not pass, the Chargers will, in all likelihood, move to Los Angeles. Potential logistics of this move would be discussed, particularly where the Chargers would play next season if a move is approved. They could stay in San Diego for the time being, as the Raiders will do in Oakland if their move is approved, or perhaps try and play in the Rose Bowl. Joining the Rams in the L.A. Coliseum is a dicey proposal as it would put three teams in the stadium with University of Southern California also playing home games there.
Twitter will also be discussed with both the NFL’s new social media policy and Thursday Night Football streaming some games on the social network. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the social media policy peeled back as both the Eagles and Browns protested the policy on Sunday and the policy itself, frankly, is one of the most insane things the league has ever done from a business perspective. As for streaming, the ratings have been a mixed bag, but it’s likely an endeavor that the NFL will continue as there isn’t much downside to embracing cord-cutters as of now.
Even with things looking relatively bad from a business perspective, it’s important to keep in mind that the NFL is still a juggernaut in this realm. Without an earth-shaking event, that isn’t going to change in the next few years.