NFL ratings took a tumble in the first half of the 2016 regular season and managed to rebound in the second half. And the postseason including the Super Bowl was also down from the previous season. There are many theories, but Fox Sports executive Michael Mulvihill says his research backs two main factors as the reasons, the presidential election and an increase in NFL windows or oversaturation.

In a guest column for Sports Business Journal, Mulvihill poo-poohs theories such as the Colin Kaepernick national anthem protests, Red Zone Channel cannilbalization and commercial load.

In regards to the boycotts over the Kaepernick protests:

“…more people watched the NFL this season than ever before — and that ratings surged following the election — dispels the possibility of a boycott being a primary factor.”

Red Zone Channel/NFL RedZone?

“While I don’t dismiss the popularity of the RedZone Channel, the fact that the declines were more acute for the prime-time packages than for the Sunday afternoon packages that compete with RedZone puts a damper on this theory.”

Commercial loads:

“… our commercial loads were unchanged from recent record-breaking NFL seasons. A remarkable 98 percent of live Fox NFL viewers stayed tuned in during commercial breaks this year. That figure matches both 2015 and 2014.

So according to Mulvihill, those theories are out. But he lends more credence to the influence the presidential election had on ratings in the first half of the season and how the numbers jumped after it was over:

Look at total minutes viewed — a metric that has become the best tool for looking at content across networks and across media. Total minutes viewed for the entire league was down 13 percent through the season’s first nine weeks — the weeks prior to Election Day. Following the election, though, total minutes viewed dropped by less than one one-hundredth of a percent through the regular season’s last eight weeks. 

And Mulvihill cites the increase of NFL windows including Sunday morning London games and Thursday Night Football. Saying the NFL had 110 windows in 2016, an increase of 14 since 2009 and fewer quality matchups to fill them, Mulvihill said it’s no wonder that the ratings were down.

He is hopeful that with a calmer news cycle and an increase in the stronger teams that ratings will go up in 2017. We shall see.

[Sports Business Journal]

About Ken Fang

Ken has been covering the sports media in earnest at his own site, Fang's Bites since May 2007 and at Awful Announcing since March 2013.

He provides a unique perspective having been an award-winning radio news reporter in Providence and having worked in local television.

Fang celebrates the four Boston Red Sox World Championships in the 21st Century, but continues to be a long-suffering Cleveland Browns fan.