With NFL ratings sputtering and most of America convinced that player protests are to blame, the official TV executive counter-narrative is upon us.

A week after several prominent execs told Sports Business Journal that over-saturation of football, and specifically the growth of Thursday Night Football, was to blame, the Wall Street Journal has published its own collection of quotes to the same effect. The most interesting testimony comes from CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus, whose network has rights to Thursday Night Football in addition to its AFC package on Sunday.

“I do think it’s clear that adding 10 games to the Thursday night package and two additional Sunday morning London games has clearly diluted the Sunday afternoon packages and affected the ratings. It’s just simple mathematics,” said CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus.

[link_box id=”81189″ site_id=”94″ layout=”link-box-third” alignment=”alignright”]This quote is surprising in light of McManus’ previous comments. Back in February 2016, after CBS reached a deal with the NFL to televise a handful of Thursday-night games, McManus told Awful Announcing that he was confident interest in the NFL would prevent any dilution in the ratings.

“Whenever the NFL adds programming, the appetite seems to be there from fans, and the ratings keep getting better,” he said. “We had our highest-rated AFC championship game in 29 years. So there doesn’t seem to be a lessening of interest on the part of fans and viewers. I think Thursday night is going to continue, we’re going to continue to improve the ratings, and it’s going to continue to be a really valuable franchise and a real viewing destination for viewers, for fans.”

In less than two years, McManus has gone from, “the appetite seems to be there” to, “It’s simple mathematics.” Either he was just toeing the company line last year, or he’s doing the same this year. Regardless, there seems to be real momentum building among TV executives to limit how many days a week viewers can find NFL football on air, as he joins executives from both NBC and Fox in pushing this narrative.

It may seem hypocritical for McManus to blame Thursday Night Football for the NFL’s ratings while actually airing Thursday Night Football, but it’s easy to see the reasoning. TNF is going to exist (and thus, allegedly dilute CBS’ ratings on Sundays) no matter whether CBS is involved, so the network might as well claim a piece of that pie. McManus can simultaneously think TNF should be limited and that as long as it’s around it should be on his network.

We can’t say for sure whether the cause for the NFL’s stagnant ratings is protests, over-saturation or one of the other 30-something reasons various observers have suggested. Hell, in the same Wall Street Journal story in which McManus blamed dilution, NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus suggested ratings were suffering from the NFL putting highlights online and thus, “enabling fans to keep up and follow the game without watching the telecast.” But it’s clear that the barrage of TV executives, owners, fans, reporters and analysts speculating about ratings has only just begun, and the excuses aren’t going to stop coming.

[Wall Street Journal]

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.

  • Shame Hannity

    No, no, no, Alex!! You’re ruining Trump’s agenda by writing this. It’s ALL about the NFL players disrespecting the flag, our military, and hating the United States of America!! The right wingers will go crazy!! Who can they blame if not the SJW’s, liberal media, and the snowflakes??
    Everything is SO political now……….

    • ToddM

      Nope, its all Thursday night footballs fault! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!!

  • Dee Snutz

    Seany McFuckstick doesn’t have a fucking clue.

  • Duncan Hirohito

    They sold the NFL to advertisers as the ever expanding cash cow and lured ESPN into a deal that is so bad on the financials of the company that they have to play with the talent looking for a savior. When it isn’t growing, it isn’t living up to expectations. Knowing the reason at this late date is not the same as predicting those reasons beforehand. By the way, the NFL is played by Black men and watched by Black men. I’d lay off the anthem bs.

  • Sting Rey

    ive been saying this for the last few years. the nfl bubble is bursting. they play games every day of the week except tuesday and wednesday. espn has so much money tied up in MNF, they have essentially become NFL Network 2.

  • ToddM

    I love it! The networks are getting their radical butts handed to them. We are going to suck billions out of them before they can reduce their NFL contracts. Then its the NFL and players turn. Sweet justice.

  • Walt_Gekko

    This to me is a cover for the real problem: Cord cutting!

    Younger generations are not consuming television as a whole the way older generations have, and that has spelled out in the ratings, that are down WAY MORE overall than for the NFL.

    What is also overlooked is how College Football has impacted this. Every Saturday, you have games going practically non-stop from Noon ET until 2:00 AM ET Sunday morning. Many people are simply “footballed out” by Sunday morning, especially in areas where College Football is actually bigger than the NFL. With so many games on Saturday, some simply don’t care about the NFL like they once did and it has ZERO to do with protests or anything else.

  • tom2

    I know who I am and I know why I used to love commercial football. It used to be a contest between the best athletes. They were the biggest, the fastest and the most talented. This year, they became shills for Obama’s fundamental transformation. As their whine drags on, my dislike for the disrespect turned into hatred. Now, after ignoring the NFL for more than a month, my hatred has been fundamentally transformed into indifference. My disinterest has spread to other television markets too. My habits have changed. I watch my alma mater’s football games and will watch March Madness. But I’ve found I have no need for TV news, weather, sports or entertainment. The internet is more informative and I often interact with others regarding controversial news. Soon, television won’t be a part of our household at all.

  • Bscotch Bscotch

    Leslie’s puppet comes to life! And what the fuck is he looking at in that picture?

    • Dee Snutz

      He watching the ratings fall.

  • Frank Grimes

    He may not be saying it publicly but he knows the real reason why the ratings are down. I love it when the ignorant left get a dose of “actions have consequences”.

  • BK

    Do you realize less than 2% of people are cord cutters? It’s a false narrative. Sorry to burst everyone’s bubble, but television isn’t going away. The ad $ is still lucrative, and airing the games on Amazon or whatever other website people watch isn’t even close to generating that kind of money. Oh, and some RandomWebsite.com isn’t going to pay to produce these games.

    The Skins/Cowboys on Thanksgiving last year was the 2nd highest rated Thanksgiving game of ALL TIME. Funny how no one mentioned that, because it wrecked the “I’m never watching football again!” crowd. The current ratings decline has absolutely nothing to do with the protesters, the election, election coverage, hurricanes, or anything else except the fact the quality of the product has decreased.


    It’s the protests. Everyone knows it.

  • ToddM

    No one ever said liberals were intelligent. Just like pretending to be. It is irrelevant. We are not coming back no matter what you need to blame it on. We actually prefer you to continue to screw this up while living in denial of obvious reality. Such much more enjoyable this way.