For the first two months of the season, the NFL looked at its declining ratings and fed itself the party line: It’s because of the election. We, the public, decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. Most of the decline came in prime time games, which go up against cable news juggernauts like Anderson Cooper and Hannity, which have all seen big boosts in ratings this political season. With little decline in the Sunday afternoon windows, it was certainly plausible that the ratings plunge was mostly due to the election.
But with the NBA season in full swing and ratings starting to come in, the NFL’s case is crumbling. ESPN’s prime time doubleheader last Friday was up 42 percent after opening night ratings were up 10 percent. It’s a small sample size for sure and it certainly helps that the Knicks, Bulls, Lakers and Warriors were all featured on Friday night, but this is bad news for the NFL.
With the election at its crescendo, NBA ratings aren’t just holding steady, they have rocketed upwards. And if you’re wondering, college football isn’t doing that bad either. Given that data, there isn’t much reason to believe the NFL’s ratings will shoot back up after Tuesday. Should they continue to decline, it will probably be good in the long run. The league will likely be forced to address the poor play fans have been subjected to and, more importantly, the countless domestic violence scandals it has turned a blind eye to in hopes that the public will merely forget. It isn’t a good thing that this is likely the only scenario in which the league is forced to address its problems, but at least it may finally have to do something about them.