Here’s the fun thing about the NFL’s suddenly wobbly television ratings: they can say whatever you want them to.
Believe the NFL’s newfound activism has turned the country against it? Sure, that might be true.
Wondering whether anyone can focus on football with (waving hands wildly) all this going on? Hey, that’s valid too.
Think that maybe people want to get outside these past few weekends of warm weather? That’s entirely a possibility.
Disenchanted with matchups of winless teams? You are most definitely not alone.
Here’s what is indisputable: ratings for the NFL are down, in some cases to an ugly degree.
Why? Well, that’s a trickier question, one we can’t answer with certainty until we’re past this election and the COVID-19 pandemic. For now, here’s your Week 4 update. Television executives may wish to avert your eyes:
Thursday Night Football (NFL Network) was down an astounding 70 percent from last year, but that comes with a huge caveat: last year’s game aired on NFL Network and Fox. Broadcast TV always jacks up ratings, and it’ll do the same thing when TNF returns to Fox later this season.
Still: only 5.41 million watched the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets play last Thursday. (If you’re not a fan of either of those teams, or if you don’t have money riding on the outcome ... why would you?)
Sunday Night Football (NBC) took a steep dive, falling 37 percent in viewership from last year. The matchup was substandard — a winless Philadelphia versus an injury-ravaged San Francisco — even if the game ended up being fairly decent. If there’s a worrying sign for the NFL, it’s Sunday night.
The CBS doubleheader also saw sharp declines due in large part to the shifting of Patriots-Chiefs to Monday night. A primo matchup vanished from the slate, and that sent the early game (primarily Chargers-Bucs) tumbling 32 percent to 9.95 million viewers, and the late game (Buffalo-Las Vegas) down 6 percent to 18.61 million viewers.
Fox’s singleheader, which comprised Cleveland-Dallas or Giants-Rams for the majority of the country, was the lone bright spot of the week, ticking up 2 percent to 16.85 million viewers.
Monday night had the distinction of having two separate games running somewhat concurrently. Chiefs-Patriots drew 14.60 million viewers, more than the 14.02 million who’d watched last Monday’s Chiefs-Ravens game. (Again, a caveat: broadcast vs. cable.) On the other hand, the partially-cannibalized, partially-terrible Falcons-Packers game drew 8.65 million viewers, down 17 percent from last year.
It’s worth noting that the NFL continues to win days in which it airs. The league still has the largest slice of a smaller pie. But it’s also clear that many of the people who once watched the league are, for whatever reason, finding something else to do with their Sundays.
Sources: Network press releases, Sports Media Watch
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee and contact him with tips and story ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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