The NFL is America's ratings juggernaut. It's the most successful, popular, highly watched television property in all the land. Sunday Night Football reigns as the most watched primetime series. The NFL Playoffs routinely fill the Top 10 most watched sporting events. Nothing else even comes close.
However, there are some signs of NFL ratings declining just a bit.
Sure it's only preseason, but the NFL has seen numbers drop on their national television broadcasts.
Thursday's Chargers-Bears broadcast on ESPN drew under 3 million viewers. According to Paulsen at Sports Media Watch, that's the least watched NFL preseason game since Jaguars-Redskins in 2008, a full 5 years ago. It was also the lowest rated ESPN broadcast of an NFL preseason game since at least 2007. The second lowest? Bengals-Falcons from the previous week at 3.1 million viewers.
That hasn't been the only decline though. Fox fell from a 1.9 to a 1.5 in the demo for Patriots-Bucs on Friday night versus the corresponding telecast last year even though football still won the night. The opening game of the year, the Hall of Fame Game, was also down from the last time it aired on NBC in 2010.
Could it be viewers are finally wising up to the meaningless dog and pony show that is the NFL preseason? Perhaps. The NFL shouldn't be worried yet by any means as they're still smashing all comers and preseason football still beats baseball in plenty of local markets. Nevertheless, NFL regular season ratings were slightly down last year.
If these numbers trending downward continue to bleed through into the regular season once again, it could be a sign the NFL has peaked as a television product for now. Of course, even if the NFL saw declines once again in regular season and postseason ratings, they would still be miles ahead of everyone else. The NFL could lose half their audience and still be the #1 sport in the land. Still though, it's worth watching as the season progresses to see if their positioning becomes the slightest bit less insurmountable at the top.