nfl ratings-monday night football ratings-sunday night football ratings

For one reason or another (or, most likely, a complex combination of reasons), America is not watching the NFL like it used to.

For the past two years, NFL ratings and viewership totals have conspicuously slipped, amid heated debate over causes. On Thursday, Sports Business Journal’s Austin Karp reported some numbers that should provide ammo to anyone pushing an explanation for pro football’s decline in TV popularity.

Per Karp, NBC’s Sunday Night Football drew its worst average viewership since 2008 this season, while ESPN’s Monday Night Football netted its lowest average viewership since ESPN got the package in 2006.

This news shouldn’t exactly be a surprise to anyone who has followed NFL ratings in 2017, but it’s still a jarring reminder of the league’s growing crisis.

The scary thing for the NFL and its rights-holders is that everyone has a different explanation for what’s causing the decline. Some of the explanations (such as over-saturation) might be correctable, some of them (player protests) might fade in relevance over time and some of them (football’s inherent danger, cord-cutting) are probably here to stay. It’s impossible to predict whether this viewership dip is a blip or an irreversible trend.

Another troublesome fact for the league: Rights for both MNF and SNF will hit the market early next decade. ESPN’s contract runs through 2021, while NBC’s deal runs through 2022. If viewership doesn’t turn around before then, the NFL will be stuck selling a product on decline and might not fetch the return it would like. Sports leagues and rights-holders are counting on bids from digital outlets like Amazon and Facebook, but would those companies really risk gobs of cash on lagging properties? And would TV networks bet big after years of watching viewership slip?

It’s far too early to write an obituary for the NFL as America’s favorite sport — SNF and MNF still rank among the most watched programs on broadcast TV and cable, respectively — but the ship sure appears headed in the wrong direction.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • JWJ

    The first test as to the current value of the NFL will be the Thursday Night package? Isn’t the current contract up?
    The NFL got $34.4M per TNF game in 2014 and $45M in 2017. The avg number of viewers per TNF game from 2014 to 2017 has been 16.3M; 17.5M; 15.9M; 14.1M.

    The players need to protest more on the field during the game (and get more radical and creative) to increase the ratings.

  • Karl Kolchak

    Not surprising–most of the games suck and half the teams don’t have good QBs in a league that changed all of its rules to favor passing. Meanwhile, there is one halfway decent QB who has been blacklisted because NFL owners are morons.

    • Son of Rusty Shackleford

      Such a fool! Must really suck to be you, Karl.

      • Karl Kolchak

        Nope–My net worth is in the 7 figures, loser.

    • StoJa

      “Halfway decent” is literally the highest accolade you could give Kaepernick.

    • TheOriginalDonald

      Thanks for your support!-Tim Tebow

  • Conundrum

    Those who deny that the kneeling was not disrespectful are kidding themselves. The main reason for lower ratings (although there are certainly other factors) was the kneeling. No doubt about it.

    • Walt_Gekko

      Cord cutting was far bigger than kneeling, especially in key demos. Ratings in key demos for most other shows were actually down far further than the NFL and even college football (which was up last year) was down this year. Cord cutters were a BIG part of that.

      • Roger Gotohell

        We cord cut to remove the NFL/ESPN from our home. It wasn’t enough to stop watching. We had to stop paying to get the message across.

    • Dingle Berry

      How do you fill all that empty time on Sundays, Contard?
      I assume you get the cross-burning over with some time midway through Saturday night.

      • Conundrum

        No doubt your name describes your dietary choices because you’re certainly full of brown fecal matter. Jerk.

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  • sportsfan365

    Instant replay and over-officiating has taken the excitement from the sport. No sense in celebrating a good play anymore, as it probably will get called back or overturned on review.