Last week, viewership data of the various networks’ NFL pregame shows began to circulate, and it didn’t paint a pretty picture for ESPN. Through the first nine weeks of the 2017 season, “Sunday NFL Countdown” was down nearly 20% on ESPN, the most significant drop of any of the networks.
Those viewers also aren’t flipping to ESPN2 to watch “Fantasy Football Now,” which was down just shy of 15% through Week 9.
The numbers for ESPN are damning. “Countdown’s” viewership has fallen to 1.13 million over the first nine weeks of the season. Last season through nine weeks, that viewership total was at 1.41 million. “Fantasy Football Now” is also lagging, dropping to 323,000 viewers on average over nine weeks this year, compared to 379,000 over nine weeks last year.
While ESPN’s struggles have been documented, there also isn’t great news for either CBS or Fox, though NFL Network comes out of this looking pretty strong.
The two broadcast networks, CBS and Fox, have both seen viewership for their primary pregame shows, “The NFL Today” and “Fox NFL Sunday,” take hits — but those drops aren’t as large as ESPN’s drop for “Countdown.” Also, the viewership for each of those networks’ pregame shows dwarfs that of “Countdown” by millions.
The drop for “The NFL Today” was 5% through the first nine weeks, down to 3.3 million from 3.5 million a year ago. Fox’s drop for “Fox NFL Sunday” was more minimal, going from 4.728 million through nine weeks last year to 4.703 million this year. That’s a drop of less than a percentage point.
Fox actually has seen their “NFL Kickoff” pregame show, which has aired prior to “Fox NFL Sunday” since the 2015 season, tick up this year from 1.237 million viewers to 1.274 million viewers through nine weeks, good for a 3% jump that has propelled it above “Countdown’s” viewership for the season (in a longer timeslot).
NFL Network’s marathon “Gameday Morning” show is also up this year, from 529,000 viewers last year to 619,000 in 2017, a 17% gain. “Gameday Morning” only aired eight episodes through the first nine weeks in each of the last two seasons, thanks to London games, missing Week 7 ratings in 2016 and Week 8 in 2017.
Overall, fewer people are watching NFL pregame shows this season across all networks. Fox picked up some of the stragglers from ESPN in the 11 a.m. ET hour, and some of those viewers also went to NFL Network. But with both Fox and CBS’s flagship shows down (though in Fox’s case, not by a significant amount), four of the five pregame shows airing in the noon window are down for the season through nine weeks.
It fits in with the overall declining viewership for the afternoon Sunday windows as well. The viewership is still strong by the standards of everything else on television, but the Sunday games have largely been down all season. You would figure that the people watching pregame shows are some of the biggest fans of the league. But when you see those people tuning out, it should be a warning sign to the league and its TV partners that declining ratings aren’t just because of casual fans being fed up with any of a litany of issues with the league. It’s a sign that the league’s core audience is getting fed up with some of those issues as well.
Viewership data provided by AA ratings guru Douglas Pucci.