NFL's Declining Viewership: One Slice at a Time

Strike4

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It's a combination of factors, but the relatively new focus by an increasing share of the American public on getting outside, getting exercise, etc., is certainly one of them. I'm sure the NFL has survey data and they use that to inform initiatives like NFL 60 (getting kids outside to play), just as they presumably use data to create programs honoring the military and wearing pink shoes. The NFL undertakes these initiatives in response to business and PR needs, and not because it is benevolent, so it is real.

Again, it's a combination of factors, and it's hard to separate them from one another without raw data. Another could be the 18-34 demographic's view of the role of parents, which contrasts to the older demographic's more traditional roles (i.e. men are more involved with kids and don't head to the bar for two games on Sunday). That demographic is where the NFL is seeing the biggest decline. Another factor that could be impacting viewership is the decline of the New York teams, with their notoriously fickle fans. So if you're a 32 year old in NYC, in a survey you might say you would rather go upstate to pick apples with your wife and friends for the day than you would be to watch the Giants.
 

tims4wins

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I am 36, have 3 kids. As recently as say 7-8 years ago I was an all day Sunday NFL viewer. Now with 3 kids I usually see a piece of the Pats game live and watch the rest on DVR. Will usually catch some of the first half of SNF after the kids go to bed but I rarely if ever stay up to the end.

Of course, this isn’t a new thing - all 20 something singles become 30 something dads - but I wonder if the older generation was still more likely to plant themselves in front of the TV all day Sunday despite having 3 young kids due to gender roles or whatever. At some point when my kids are a bit older there is a chance I start watching 10 hours of football again every Sunday, but it seems far more likely that by that time I will just quit the league entirely.
 

HowBoutDemSox

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Ratings down 9.7% for the year:

NFL television ratings fell 9.7 percent during the 2017 regular season, according to numbers registered by Nielsen.

A typical game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people this season as compared to last season (14.9 million versus 16.5 million).

The drop comes after the NFL had hoped to stem an 8 percent ratings slide from last season by experimenting with the format for television commercials and trying to speed up the game.
http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/21960086/nfl-television-ratings-97-percent-2017-regular-season
 

NortheasternPJ

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I'm not one for defending these things but this shouldn't be surprising at all, especially the Saints-Panthers game comparing it to the NYG /GB Game.

Edit: Wrong week my mistake.
 
Last edited:

NortheasternPJ

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Good catch. I was looking at the wrong week. The 4th game was Packers / Giants though which should out draw the Panthers/Saints easily.
 

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johnmd20

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The NFL ratings are dropping. It's not because of the matchups, it's because the league is losing viewers. And there are a variety of reasons(flags, the brutality, maybe kneeling, but probably not) for this but I think the main reason is that the game is just too brutal and that realization is a deal breaker for many.

The NFL will never get back to its peaks in the US from 2 and 3 years ago. Those days are over. What they have to hope for is that the ratings can level off and maybe they can grow internationally. But I'm unconvinced, the NFL has a huge problem and none of the other sports are even close to having the same issues. The league is still a juggernaut but it's got serious issues.
 

ifmanis5

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Saints Panthers is a bad comparison because it's 2 relatively small markets, without the rabid and national fanbase of other small markets like Green Bay/Pittsburgh, and also they meet each other 2 times per year so there's no novelty.
Very fair point about market sizes but the overall decline pattern is larger than just fanbase size for individual teams. An NFL playoff game used to be an automatic ratings juggernaut. Not the case recently and that pattern continues.

In related news:
The Associated Press‏Verified account @AP 2m2 minutes ago
Yahoo Sports will livestream all four NFL divisional playoff games this weekend on its app.
 

joe dokes

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People watch less television. Aren't the games still the top rated programming in their time slots?
 

dbn

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I work with a bunch of young (20s and 30s) people. Most of them don't watch sports, or even have cable. They stream TV on the Hulus and the Amazon Primes, they game on their Xboxes and Yboxes, they do other stuff that isn't watching sports on TV. I'm positive that this group is not, in general, representative of "kids these days", but I do think they are representative of a growing segment of "kids these days". How much of an impact this putative phenomenon has on ratings I can't say, but throw it into the mix nonetheless.
 

pokey_reese

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I work with a bunch of young (20s and 30s) people. Most of them don't watch sports, or even have cable. They stream TV on the Hulus and the Amazon Primes, they game on their Xboxes and Yboxes, they do other stuff that isn't watching sports on TV. I'm positive that this group is not, in general, representative of "kids these days", but I do think they are representative of a growing segment of "kids these days". How much of an impact this putative phenomenon has on ratings I can't say, but throw it into the mix nonetheless.
My nephew is an 11-year old kid, who has played multiple years of pop-warner, has a football trophy in his room that he is proud of, and lives in Chicago, a city with a good NFL history and generally sports-crazy fan base. I was trying to bond with him and talk about the Bears, and he couldn't name a single player, but he has at least 5 favorite YouTube and Twitch stars that he can talk about for days. I've seen more and more of this lately, and I think that's what should scare the NFL the most. It's not just that some fans are leaving for the reasons johnmd mentioned, but that it doesn't seem like the league is catching the attention of kids that would have been a slam dunk for them 15 years ago.
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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The NFL ratings are dropping. It's not because of the matchups, it's because the league is losing viewers. And there are a variety of reasons(flags, the brutality, maybe kneeling, but probably not) for this but I think the main reason is that the game is just too brutal and that realization is a deal breaker for many.

The NFL will never get back to its peaks in the US from 2 and 3 years ago. Those days are over. What they have to hope for is that the ratings can level off and maybe they can grow internationally. But I'm unconvinced, the NFL has a huge problem and none of the other sports are even close to having the same issues. The league is still a juggernaut but it's got serious issues.
I can’t even put a finger on why I watch less football. It’s not the brutality, I know that. I never really was into college football unless I was betting on it, but I did use to devote entire Sundays to the nfl. Life I guess? Cohabitation? More options? I know i never used to watch the nba very much but find myself watching even non Celtics games now, when previously I would never consider it. I don’t know, I agree with your premise, that the nfl has problems, but I’m not sure it’s dead. A decade ago we thought the nba was dead and it bounced back pretty well. Everyone keeps talking about mlb dying, but it’s not. Even the nhl had a resurgence a bit. I’m not sure if will ever get back, that seems like it’s bubble, but it’s not going to die.
 

Cesar Crespo

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I can’t even put a finger on why I watch less football.

Football games are boring and have too much downtime. As much as I love the NBA, it suffers the same problem at the end of games due to intentional fouling.

A second screen is almost a requirement for the NFL, although it is for MLB too, which is another sport that isn't appealing to youth.
 

SumnerH

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People watch less television. Aren't the games still the top rated programming in their time slots?
Yes, by far (I pulled the numbers a couple of weeks ago in another thread). The other stuff may play into it some, but the decline in overall TV viewership is likely the biggest culprit in the decline in NFL viewership, which is still very strong compared to other TV viewership.
 

Papelbon's Poutine

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Meh. I’ve pretty much perfected the art of watching modern sports with a dvr and starting a little late to avoid commercials and all that crap. Maybe it’s just injury issues that have robbed matchups or whatever but I haven’t found a lot of compelling , non Pats, games to watch the last few years. Lack of stars? I dunno. I can bang out a game in 2 hours or so if I plan it right, I just don’t find the impetus to do so, whereas I used to have no problem spending all day watching. Maybe it’s domestication, maybe it’s cause I don’t gamble or play fantasy anymore. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s definitely not violence or agenda of the league office.

Nba, yes, end of games are brutal, but that’s nothing new. And I’ve found myself more likely to watch a Cavs/Warriors game than a Packers/Steelers game (or whatever).

Edit: in response to bosox
 

tims4wins

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Right. Pats ended up beating Pitt by 18 last year but with Pitt’s offense and national following I would imagine most viewers stayed tuned in. Not the case with the Vikings following and their offense

edit Brady-Ben vs Foles-Keenum. I mean it is pretty obvious
 

ifmanis5

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http://awfulannouncing.com/nfl/nfl-conference-championship-ratings-recent-years-still-huge.html

AFC 27.3, about the same as last year's early game. NFC 24.7, down 11% from last year's late game.
The dip in ratings this weekend comes after regular-season NFL ratings were down just shy of 10 percent, Wild Card weekend ratings were down double-digits and Divisional round ratings were down substantially as well.... However, Pats-Jags was (unsurprisingly) the highest-rated show on television since last year’s Super Bowl, topping the Academy Awards last March.
 

mauf

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Those are surprisingly good numbers, considering how bad the second game was.

The migration of ad dollars from TV to digital has halted for the moment (due to concerns about the efficacy of digital advertising, not any newfound appeal of TV). That pause won’t last forever, but even when the longer-term trend resumes, TV probably won’t bleed as badly as before, and advertisers will continue to prefer live events over scripted programming. I think @johnmd20 is right about the NFL having reached its high-water mark, but it’s going to be a very gentle landing for NFL owners over the medium-term — at least for those who have been in the business for 10+ years. (Whether a negative trend causes a reassessment of insane franchise valuations is a separate issue, and isn’t unique to football.)
 

ifmanis5

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Agreed with above, even with the NFL's decline it's still a dominant ratings force at the moment in comparison to what else is out there. Even a down NFL has lots of ratings value. The concerning part for the league, nets and advertisers is the clear trend line. Is this current decline temporary or not, though? No one really has the answer. However, if most people had to guess, the guess would be a continued downward direction and that will impact the next round of deals for sure.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

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Yesterday's games had the same or worse ratings than last year:

TV by the Numbers‏Verified account @TVbytheNumbers 17m17 minutes ago
Per Fox Sports, the NFC Championship had 42.3 million viewers on FOX. Down about 12% vs. the primetime AFC title game last year (47.95M)....

AFC Championship on CBS was essentially even w/last year’s afternoon game on FOX. Haven’t seen final numbers yet.
Does this take into account digital views? The NFL offered free streaming of playoff games. Not sure if that's a new feature.
 

ifmanis5

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Does this take into account digital views? The NFL offered free streaming of playoff games. Not sure if that's a new feature.
Pretty sure those are TV numbers only. At some point in the future there will be a 'Total Eyeballs Number' but we aren't there yet. In fact, I don't think the NFL, or any league, shares its digital numbers- they view it more as proprietary info. Maybe someone can chime in with that take.
 

ifmanis5

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FOX will broadcast Thursday night games starting next year, sharing with NFL Network.
John Ourand‏Verified account @Ourand_SBJ 6m6 minutes ago
Sources: Fox will have 11 Thursday Night NFL games, sharing with NFL Network and a digital partner. Fox will have expanded mobile rights. The TNF digital package (ie, Amazon's) still is up for sale.

The bid is said to be higher than last year: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-31/fox-is-said-close-to-deal-to-air-nfl-s-thursday-night-football
... despite an almost 10% ratings drop.
 

ifmanis5

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Ratings down 7% from last year:
Reuters Top News‏Verified account @Reuters 2m2 minutes ago
Super Bowl draws 103 million viewers, down 7 percent from 2017
The viewership on NBC, which is owned by Comcast Corp, ranked as the lowest for U.S. television’s premiere event since 2009. Still, the decline was smaller than the 10 percent falloff for National Football League games during the regular season.
 

johnmd20

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For all the double digit losses on the year, those ratings look pretty damn impressive. Over 100 million people is still incredible, even if it's down from last year.

The NFL might be declining, but it's still a ridiculous juggernaut.
 

Ale Xander

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Losing only 7% was incredible given all the off-field stuff.

Roger and Co. should be backing up the truck and matching BB's salary, behind closed doors, hell Tom too. Pats in the SB is good for the NFL.

This feels a lot like 2001, 2003, and 2004 in MLB. Specifically 2001. Hopefully 2002-2004 finish better for us.
 

InstaFace

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Not so fast?


Difference in audience between the Super Bowl and the #1 primetime entertainment show, last 10 years:

2018: 617%
2017: 661%
2016: 574%
2015: 563%
2014: 506%
2013: 473%
2012: 479%
2011: 364%
2010: 363%
2009: 287%
 

kenneycb

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It's almost as if there's a trend of people watching TV in less traditional ways and traditional ratings is not the best measurement.
 

Marciano490

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It's almost as if there's a trend of people watching TV in less traditional ways and traditional ratings is not the best measurement.
How much does that matter for gauging the success of the NFL, though? The fact that people are watching Stranger Things on their computer has what effect on the live ratings of football games on Sundays how exactly?
 

kenneycb

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I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the sheer measurement of ratings. I doubt the ratings are capturing the amount of people that are live streaming the games through Yahoo or wherever it was offered. Traditional ways of measuring ratings is inadequate as it's leaving out a growing chunk of how people are consuming content now. Anecdotal but last year I watched the Pats-Falcons game streamed on an Apple TV.

The NFL is a lot like ESPN in that it still wildly successful and popular, just probably not as wildly popular as before, so people are taking any dip as a sign that they're close to death when live sports is what consumers and advertisers still actually value.
 

Marciano490

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I'm not talking about that, I'm talking about the sheer measurement of ratings. I doubt the ratings are capturing the amount of people that are live streaming the games through Yahoo or wherever it was offered. Traditional ways of measuring ratings is inadequate as it's leaving out a growing chunk of how people are consuming content now. Anecdotal but last year I watched the Pats-Falcons game streamed on an Apple TV.

The NFL is a lot like ESPN in that it still wildly successful and popular, just probably not as wildly popular as before, so people are taking any dip as a sign that they're close to death when live sports is what consumers and advertisers still actually value.
Oh, I misunderstood then. I thought there was a way to take streaming into account when they were relaying the ratings.
 

kenneycb

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The streaming companies own all the data so Nielsen is reliant on getting a working relationship with them. From a quick Google search, they look to have one Netflix, Hulu Live TV, and YouTube TV on board and are trying to get Amazon and others this year. They may have access to NBC's streaming data (unclear from my quick research) but it doesn't look like they have access to Yahoo's, so any figure will be an estimate and not one I would particularly rely on given how young the trend is.
 

Hoya81

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There’s also the impact that access to illegal internet streams can have on the broadcast tv ratings. It’s much easier now to bypass the local tv game and stream their team on a Fire stick/tablet etc.
 

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There’s also the dilution of audience for any single tv show—those numbers are the difference between the Super Bowl and the top show.

It’s easy to imagine a world with exactly the same number of viewers year to year, it where the top shows numbers are depressed due to increased choice.
 

JimD

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There’s also the dilution of audience for any single tv show—those numbers are the difference between the Super Bowl and the top show.

It’s easy to imagine a world with exactly the same number of viewers year to year, it where the top shows numbers are depressed due to increased choice.
That's my take as well. I remember the surprise when Netflix announced that Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright were signed to produce a new original series, yet House of Cards season 1 only debuted five years ago. It's hard to believe that the modern era of streaming services offering premium original content is so young.
 

SumnerH

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There’s also the dilution of audience for any single tv show—those numbers are the difference between the Super Bowl and the top show.

It’s easy to imagine a world with exactly the same number of viewers year to year, it where the top shows numbers are depressed due to increased choice.
Peak shows have definitely declined.

Big Bang Theory pulls down 20 million on a good night in their highest rated season, often less. NCIS is lucky to reach 15 million nowadays (5 years ago, 20 million was commonplace). Those are generally the 2 highest rated scripted shows on TV.

In 2005, CSI was regularly in the 25-30 million range. Desperate Housewives was also often over 25 million.

Friends
at its peak was often a bit north of 30 in a good season. Seinfeld was somewhat regularly in the mid-30s and usually over 30 at its peak.

There are a couple of articles out there saying that Netflix alone accounts for 50% in the TV viewership decline, but I can't find anything with good recent or total numbers.