Last season one of the dominant stories for the NFL was its sudden and unexpected drop in ratings. After so many years of so much growth, it was shocking to see the NFL’s massive television viewing numbers actually move in the opposite direction.

There were lots of theories as to why the NFL would see a dip in ratings last season – people were obsessed with the election (a reasonable theory) or that people were boycotting Colin Kaepernick (a bit far-fetched although there are poll numbers that support it). Then there is just plain old overexposure (which might be the best explanation).

Heading into this season, it would seem as though the NFL would be set up to rebound with no new 2017 election cycle. While overall ratings were down last season, they did bounce back up once the calendar hit November and benefitted from the success of the Dallas Cowboys and the number of nationally televised games that were shown.

Nevertheless, that may not be the case. According to Variety, evidence shows that advertisers are preparing for another drop in ratings this season for the NFL’s most watched primetime games:

A Variety survey of commercial-ratings projections for the 2017-18 broadcast-network TV season finds that ad buyers believe fewer people than last season will watch commercials during such primetime stalwarts as NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and the “Thursday Night Football” broadcasts on both NBC and CBS. To be sure, the games remain TV’s top draw, with higher ratings expected for football than almost anything else on next season’s grid. But NFL games are proving just as vulnerable to audience erosion as their scripted counterparts. Advertisers’ commercial ratings predictions are culled by using estimates from three top media-buying agencies, which negotiate prices for and placement of billions of dollars in TV commercials each year.

It’s impossible to predict what might happen politically and culturally this fall that could potentially derail the NFL from the outside. The ratings dip last year certainly has the NFL’s attention and they’ve responded by altering how commercials are aired throughout the games with fewer, yet longer advertising breaks.

Do the predictions from advertisers just reflect a hangover from the sudden decreases last year or is there something that has a deeper and long-term meaning at play?

Perhaps the most interesting comment might come from one of those ad buyers who believes that the NFL has “peaked” and overexposed itself on national television.

The 2017-18 C3 projections illustrate the effects of football’s tough season last year, when the outsize allure of the presidential election and the absence of star players prompted a drop of about 8%, or around 1.4 million people, in TV’s overall football audience. NFL stars Tony Romo, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning were off the gridiron for various reasons at the start of the season (Manning retired), and a slew of political headlines and debates kept the nation distracted from its usual pastimes. The Chicago Cubs took part in the World Series for the first time in decades, providing more competition for sports fans.

Meanwhile, a new supply of Thursday-night games on broadcast has made more of the sport available to a wider audience. “Straight up, I believe the NFL has peaked and there too many games being broadcast,”said Ira Berger, who supervises ad buying on broadcast and cable for The Richards Group, an independent Dallas ad agency. “Nothing goes up forever — except taxes.”

We’ve been wondering for years when the NFL would hit its peak in terms of television ratings. At some point, it just has to because it’s unrealistic to expect it to keep growing and growing ad infinitum. Sports have life cycles, which is why horse racing and boxing aren’t leading your local sports section and baseball has been replaced by football as the national pastime.

The league could bounce back this year, but this is the first time we’ve really seen the idea of the NFL hitting its peak given credence by someone from inside the television industry. Before the shield starts to panic, its numbers still far outpace any other sports league or entertainment property in the country and likely will do so for the foreseeable future.

There are much more important longer term issues with people watching and playing football with the world still learning more about concussions and CTE. Who knows what might happen to football in 50 or 60 years. But in the immediate short term, the idea of overexposure certainly makes sense as the NFL has expanded so rapidly with games now on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights as well as some Sunday morning broadcasts from London. If the NFL has reached a point of oversaturation, then they have to own that themselves and figure out if less is more.

This season will be incredibly informative though in letting us know whether or not last year’s decline in numbers was a one-year fluke, or the beginning of a downward trend for the league as it comes down from its ratings heights.


About Matt Yoder

Award winning sportswriter at The Comeback and Awful Announcing. The biggest cat in the whole wide world.

  • Nuri abdil

    It’s Kapernick’s fault. The league was fine when it was just women beaters like Ray Rice and murderers like Ray Lewis. ………………..ohhh and Murders like Ray Carruth. Come to think of it Colin should just change his name to Ray and punch a women in the face…It seems to be working out well for the league.

    • PAI

      It says a lot about some NFL fans if this is the reason some tuned out, doesn’t it?

      • Todd Brown

        You’re saying they are racists? Lololol, nobody cares about that label any more.

        • bralinshan

          Amen. Racists is the left wing phrase for anybody against Marxism. It’s nauseating.

      • Andrew Singer

        It says we don’t want politics in sports. See the issues ESPN is having.

    • Jeremy

      The Ravens caught a lot of flak and a lot of boycotts from that. Everyone didn’t just ignore it and it wasn’t as wide spread by the media. This Kapernick fiasco was covered weekly, cameras focused on him kneeling like a toddler mid temper tantrum. Nobody who bust their butt for a living wants to tune in and watch some spoiled, multi millionaire, poor quality QB, throwing a temper tantrum like they have it so hard in life. I used to obsess over my Chicago Bears, but last season and this seasons I probably wouldn’t be able to tell you what their record is or who their QB is. I just don’t care about the NFL anymore and hope it fades away into nothing. They lost me probably forever.

      • Nuri abdil

        So not the Women Beaters and Murders. It was KAP. I really don’t give a crap about the sport as a whole. It’s too many commercials and ADS. A truly DUMB sport for people who don’t mind turning their brains into MASH Potatoes

  • sportsfan365

    It seems wise to plan for the worst and hope for the best, as basically no one could pinpoint the “actual” reason behind last year’s decline, thus no actions were taken to prevent it from recurring. In fact you could make a case that the problem will actually get worse, as the number of potential distractions and political grandstanding opportunists has gotten larger since last year.

    As for me, my enjoyment of the NFL was certainly down last year, especially at the start of the season. I would peg my reasons as partly overexposure and partly the ill-preparedness of most teams for the season to begin, i.e., the first three weeks had the look and feel of pre-season games.

    • JSpicoli

      Willfully ignorant leftist in the thread. You know exactly why the ratings are sliding.

    • Ricky Stanley Jr.

      The rating are down for one reason and only one, because of the disrespect of our great country.

  • Lux Interior

    Unless it’s the team I follow I’m not going sit for 4 hours watching constant commercial breaks and the flow of the game being interrupted by video replays it’s painful and allot of people I know feel the same way

  • Chris

    Watching the Premier League on weekend mornings has become a bigger habit for me than watching the NFL. I rarely sit and pay rapt attention to pro football games, even Patriots games, and I live near Boston. Football games take forever, and many of the matchups are garbage(Jags-Browns, yippee).

    • gat96

      Premier league is low quality

    • Glorious_Cause

      You replaced football with soccer? Yikes? How about neither.

  • JSpicoli

    I can’t wait until they have to renegotiate the TV contracts. Then the paycut for the players.

    Delicious and well deserved. Leftists have ruined everything, now sports. Cya NFL.

  • Scott E. Stahl

    Franchise relocation will also cause downward pleasure on their ratings. As a 20 year season ticket holder for the former San Diego Chargers. It looks like my Sundays are now wide open.

  • DrewShervin

    TNF exists only for gamblers. All it does is lower quality of football around the league. Get rid of it and weekend ratings will rise again.

  • jrwskw

    If football is or is a part of your livelihood you put it’s CTE related demise out 50-60 years. It won’t take that long in the world of today and tomorrow.

  • barn fife

    Respect the flag and stand up.. they don’t see a correlation between the tv ratings and players staying seated.. this years ratings will not let them spread that lie anymore.

  • Glorious_Cause

    I am so done watching the NFL. Too many commercials. Millionaire thugs who won’t stand for anthem. About 10 minutes of action per game, with most of the game everyone just standing around. Too many commercials. That stupid CBS Sports theme music. That stupid Fox Sports theme music. Politically correct garbage. Too many commercials.

  • Juan Lirge

    I stopped watching because of all the BLACK RACISTS POS that continue to disrespect the country and its people EVERYDAY. Is that racist? Good!

  • St. Hahn

    I think we all know why the ratings are down. I know my not watching will hurt players who are very patriotic but they are in the entertainment business and unfortunately I don’t find players kneeling during the anthem entertaining.

  • SCParegien

    My son will be attending college in the fall but did not play high school football. The coaches wanted him, he’s a big strong lineman type but he just got an academic scholarship for his scholastics. The school quarterback is attending college and majoring in engineering but elected to not play. Football is losing players and interest because parents don’t want to destroy their kids brains before they get a chance to use them. They are going into other competitive sports/forums that don’t involve multiple concussions and physical injury. The sudden drop in ratings is about Kaepernick. He’s never registered to vote in his life and he says he won’t vote because that’s supporting a “system of oppression.” Head injuries matter. If my son ever protests anything I want him to logically and eloquently back up his actions with powerful reasoning skills. Long term the ratings will drop because there’s other options. Football culture has problems that are intrinsic to the sport. The younger generation is dropping off because there are more diverse interests in sports and entertainment. Now the NFL is alienating it’s loyal base with social matters that are far more complex than anything Kaepernick has to say. It’s Sunday. You’ve worked all week at a job you tolerate so you can wake up and watch a QB wear a Castro T-shirt to a Miami game? Good luck with all that.

  • jollyjoker1

    These guys have no respect for America. Sure, i will tune in occasionally but if they go PC and start kneeling. .i am done for this year.

    • Jeremy

      They already have, even more than last year. Its sickening.

  • Super Mateo

    For me, there are two major problems that are killing my interest:

    1. Long commercial breaks. And now they’re going to cut one break just to add in to the others? It’s equivalent to getting stuck by a train. Why do advertisers pay for this? If there is a break with 10 ads in it, no one is going to remember what was the product in commercial #6. And that’s if they’re even watching. Many people would be in the kitchen microwaving a pizza and not miss a thing. Those that do sit through the break won’t remember anything but the first or last ad, if even that.
    2. Loosening the celebration rules. I don’t watch football games to see people dance. There are other shows where I can watch dancing. I want to see strategies, play calling, and execution. I don’t want to see guys showing off in the end zone like they’ve just won the Super Bowl when it’s a fourth quarter TD that takes a 42-0 score to 42-6. And they should NEVER be celebrating while the team is losing. Bottom line: It’s all about showing off.

  • Jeremy

    Yeah…over exposure….thats it. Media lies, un-american multi millionaire douchebag athletes, commercials are all reasons the ratings will continue to decline. Over exposure…no way.

  • Lori Doerfler Gingrich

    not watching second year in a row.

  • Kurt

    Where to start…

    -Moving teams: screwing cities and fans over greed. This automatically screws over local market ratings of EX team markets.

    -Commercials: TD? Nope. Okay, review and go to commercial. Not a TD. Next play, TD then a FG. Commercial, kickoff, commercial, 1 play later 2 minute warning, commercial. 25 minutes later, 10 seconds have been played and I realized that I started watching the hockey game on the other TV.

    -Politics: Way to ruin my Sunday by putting your politics into the sport. I have enough on my plate and get enough politics in every other aspect of life to deal with it during a football game. I got really annoyed when the NFL had the nerve to lecture America on domestic abuse. Hello? Pot. Meet. Kettle.

    – Refs: They will likely decide the outcome of the football game. My estimate is, 1/3 times the refs decide the game.

    -High school ki and younger: Nobody wants their kids to play football anymore. Too many negative health reports.

  • PBR Streetgang

    “Far-fetched my ass. The ratings were down because of commies in the NFL.

  • PBR Streetgang

    The NFL was ruined in the 1980’s when teams became majority minority.

  • Ricky Stanley Jr.

    I did not watch one game last year and will not watch ever again. Screw the anti-American NFL!! I’ve been a huge football fan my whole life but I’m a American first. And I know a lot of people that feel the same. Bye bye NFL!

  • Geoff Snyder

    Second year in a row keep disrespecting the flag. Goodbye.

    My young son and I would memorize the teams and divisions. No more.

    I guess I am not a real fan.

  • James Aldredge

    Until these over paid athletes start standing up for our flag and the USA, I will do what I started last year, instead of wasting 4-8 hours of NFL football games, I will continue to hunt & fish more on the weekends and start enjoying the outdoors with liked minded friends!

  • frankelee

    Racists claim every time something declines it’s because of them. It never turns out to be true. They can’t get Fox News above MSNBC in viewers at this point, The New York Times and Washington Post have booming subscription rates, they’re a tiny group of people who just can’t affect things.

  • Stick Man

    I think the main reason for the drop is the same reason for the drops all across tv, people have many more viewing options nowadays. It’s easy to flip away. I spend more time now streaming video from the internet on my tv than watching network tv. I dropped cable a few years back. This wasn’t really possible just a few years back, but now the options are growing fast. If all other tv shows are dropping 15% in ratings then why think that the nfl losing 15% is for a different reason?

  • disqus_yeZNegncsV

    Teams moving, shafting taxpayers. Want a stadium? Build it yourself, billionaires + NFL.

  • Mike

    Yesterday was Sunday, and it was 80 degrees outside and sunny. Am I supposed to sit in front of the TV from 1-4:30 on a beautiful day watching mostly commercials? I cut the cord years ago, and watching commercials when NFL season comes around has become unbearable. Find another way to advertise because people used to Netflix , HBO, and Amazon Prime won’t sit through their time being wasted anymore on commercials. Get the games down to 2 hours. FYI I’m still not sitting in front of the television on beautiful fall days midday. Push the season back so it is November – March when no one wants to go outside. These are obvious things, so obvious that they will never be done.

  • Abrana Henderson

    Drop the players’ salaries and watch how fast they stand at attention for the National Anthem!!

  • TheRealGreyGhost

    Well, a lot of NFL media tools are saying that the ratings are not down because of protests. I can’t tell the truth there, so I am dubious of the statement. The truth I know is that I have stopped watching NFL football and refused to pay for any of their products because of the politicization of the game. I don’t tell anyone else what to do. That’s the difference between the protestors and the trolls and me.

    I informed my favorite team, the NFL and the NFL players association by email of my decision and my reasons. This is the power of one, it belongs to you. Don’t give it up to anyone I informed them that I refuse to participate in false narrative politics, strictly so a political class can beat up on another political class. I once heard it said that “politics divides, sports unites”. Not anymore I guess….. But then the Olympics was always politicized by the media, which is why I haven’t watched it for years.