The NFL’s ratings this year are in the gutter.
Every single one of the NFL’s primetime offerings (Sunday, Monday, and Thursday Night Football) is down double-digits, according to Sports Illustrated. That is not good news for the NFL’s TV partners.
But one of them, CBS, isn’t worried, according to Pacific Crest analysts Andy Hargreaves and Evan Wingren. The analysts wrote in a note that CBS’ management was “largely unconcerned” about the year-over-year declines in NFL ratings.
CBS cited three reasons, according to Pacific Crest:
- Small sample sizes (there haven’t been enough games yet)
- Unfavorable matchups (for instance, NBC’s last “Sunday Night Football” had a Steelers-Chiefs matchup that was down 26% from last year, but last year’s game was Saints-Cowboys, and the Cowboys are the NFL’s biggest TV draw)
But there’s another reason that CBS didn’t even touch on: the elections. In an interview with Sports Business Daily, Mike Mulvihill, a senior VP at Fox Sports, said the current season reminded him of fall of 2000, a year which included the race between Al Gore and George W. Bush. 2000 was the only year during the decade 2000-2010 where the NFL saw a downtick overall, Sports Illustrated notes.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the NFL couldn’t face the same struggles as some of its “live sports” peers, and live events in general.
NBC had a disastrous TV showing at the Olympics, which saw a sharp viewership dip for the first time since 2000. NBC’s Olympics primetime broadcast was down 15% versus 2012. The damage was even greater among younger people. Among 18- to 49-year-olds, there was a 25% drop for the bulk of the games, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.
Online viewership for the Olympics did go up. About 24% more people have streamed the Rio Olympics through NBC’s app and website than streamed the London Games over the same period. But 98% of people still watch the Olympics on TV, the medium that has seen its audience plummet.
The question for the NFL is whether its current struggles are a blip, caused by unfavorable matches, random chance, or even the election, or whether it will be hurt by a secular downward trend in “must-see TV.”