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.

About Joe Lucia

I'm the managing editor of Awful Announcing and the news editor of The Comeback. I also made The Outside Corner a thing for six seasons.

  • Raymond Chuang

    Also, the availability of a LOT of information before the game starts on the Internet has made pregame shows a lot less useful. People are getting a lot of NFL news on Facebook and Twitter nowadays, especially on their cell phones.

    • Quinton McLargeHuge

      That’s pretty much it. Why bother watching a pregame show with a bunch of stuff about teams I don’t care about when I can get all the info I want online? As I get in to my late 30’s, I just feel like I don’t have time for that stuff anymore.

      • Raymond Chuang

        For example, you can get the latest NFL news from both the NFL and ESPN web sites. You don’t need to watch a pregame show anymore.

  • QED – quod erat demonstrandum

    It’s entertainment for me not enlightening information. And the lads on NFL Network are far and away the most sincere and spontaneous group. Laugh out loud funny. Not contrived.

    Can’t imagine why people watch anything else other than they don’t get the channel.

    • Shame Hannity

      Fully agree. Back in the day, there was NFL Today and Sunday NFL Countdown. It warmed you up with the previews of all the day’s games. Now with the Internet and daily shows all over cable (which I don’t watch), the pregame shows have taken a hit. I haven’t watched the pregame shows in several years.

  • Parts

    They’re all horrible. I get up early and try to knock some household chores out. Then try to time it so that I’m serving up the breakfast right as the early games are kicking off.

  • Son of Rusty Shackleford

    Good! Very, very good, in fact!
    (gasp for breath)

  • Carter_Burger67

    All these shows suck. Way too many people saying a whole lotta nothing. The NFL Today of the mid 70’s through the late 80’s was the best. Musberger, Irv Cross, Phyllis George and The Greek. that’s all you needed. Now all they have is bullshit that they think is funny and it’s not.

    • BobLee Says

      Greatest moment in NFL Pregame show history was Phyllis George interviewing Roger Staubach about Joe Namath’s purported sex life… “I like sex as much as Joe does. I just prefer it with one woman.”

      • Carter_Burger67

        now THAT was entertainment! These lame “comedians” doing picks and busty blonds going weather now is just stupid. Oh, and let’s not forget the stories that tug at your heartstrings. makes me want to throw up.

  • 66pugs99

    I can fault Sam Ponder on some things, her Liberty University politics and allowing her husband to destroy his NFL career while trying to woo her, but NFL countdown is not one of them. Chris Bermann was a brand while being extremely likable to most, even with all his faults, and that’s difficult to replace. Ponder is much more prepared and serious than Berman ever was, though Chris’s on air demeanor and humor made up for his shortcomings. But Ponder is quick and smart, and can be hilarious when she lets her guard down. She is really interesting to watch as the circus ringmaster, but she needs a better support crew than she has now. (Rex Ryan is just not great live, but really amazing in taped segments) I think she’ll be fine if ESPN gives her enough time, and gets her a better group to work with.

  • sportsfan365

    These folks have a lot to say, but it is valueless. When the games are done you realize they knew nothing more than the guy sitting next to you at the sports bar.

  • Rey Henry

    with 24/7 access to news made these show pointless.
    the worst of the bunch is espn nfl countdown. the show starts at dawn. they have a 12 person panel. espn always hires the most recently retired players and fired coaches without any media training. then the worst part is countdown is a pregame show which leads to NO GAME.

  • cut#27

    Must be the celestial alignment. Doesn’t have anything to do with kaepernick, sideline national anthem protests, jemele hill, POd fans, or anything like that.

  • Karl Kolchak

    I always turn the game on 30 seconds before kickoff to avoid the inane babbling of all these idiots.

  • liz4321

    I was watching Monday and Thursday night games, most weeks, Sunday afternoon and evening games some weeks, and on weeks my team was not playing I had on occasion watched Red Zone all afternoon. I also watched the pregame show and THREE football related commentary shows during the week. That was last year and the two year before that. This year, I watched a few games at the beginning of the season, thinking the anthem protests would wind down, and when instead, they ramped up, I finally had to make a decision about what I thought was the appropriate response. And since the NFL and the players have decided that football is now just a platform for social activism, politics basically, then I am finding my entertainment elsewhere and my response to the NFL is a political one. They have a platform and television cameras every week to speak to the whole country thanks to wealth and position and influence, and all I have as an average person, is speaking with my money and with the collective numbers of my fellow average citizens.

    So – I am no longer watching any football games, or any football related programming. I’ve cancelled my Sports package with the cable company, that includes ESPN and the NFL channels. And I’m aggressively boycotting all the NFL sponsors. The only football coverage I follow at all now, is what the ratings are for the NFL and how the boycott is doing. I have no plans to change that any time soon. What I think is interesting, is that because the NFL chooses to ignore the fans as do the players, they have alienated some of their strongest supporters. And we’re already in week 10 of this season. Those who have been boycotting, are kinda getting used to it and finding other ways to spend their time. The longer this situation goes without resolving it in an acceptable way for all, the more chance there is that they will lose those fans permanently. Their choice.

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  • OOS

    Two hours of ex-jocks trying to be funny is not funny. And I can’t take another story about some player’s Uncle Ray Ray burning down their house when they were a kid – while a piano plays in the background.