SCHLARP: NFL Television Ratings Could Foreshadow a Decline
The Stove

Are those a bunch of creamsicles running on a football field, or is it an attempt at a professional football game between the Broncos and Chargers on a Thursday night? Who cares, let’s just switch the channel and watch the Nationals lose to the Dodgers.

For seemingly the sixth consecutive week, the NFL trotted out another poor excuse for a football game on a Thursday that inevitably feels like it set the game back 40 years.

Heading into the season, four major networks — CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN — were all under contract to broadcast NFL games through 2022 for a hefty $40 billion. In February it was announced that NBC and CBS had won the rights to air ten Thursday night football games a season, for the next two years, at a hefty price of $900 million. It was then announced that Twitter was awarded the rights to globally stream these games for $10 million.

Networks and internet sites alike all saw the NFL as a cash-cow. Football had seemingly been the only show on television that hadn’t seen its viewership numbers decline due to the important millennial generation and their cord-cutting ways. Cable companies, faced with the realization that viewers were just turning to their DVR or Netflix, saw the NFL as a sure investment.

Numbers had been great for the NFL up until this season, however.  To date, overall NFL ratings are down 11 percent. And it’s not just local markets that are affecting numbers. The hyped national primetime games have all seen dramatic declines in viewership as well.

Last week’s Monday Night Football game of the Buccaneers and Panthers saw ratings dip 24 percent from last year. The week five rating was a record for lowest-rated Monday game in the history of the league. The Sunday Night Football game on NBC the night before also saw ratings fall 22 percent, albeit it was competing against a presidential debate.

The Thursday Night Football games on CBS have seen ratings drop 20 percent collectively, and that is with no competition from a debate.

Ratings have dropped so much that networks have been giving money back to companies that have bought advertising space during NFL games in an act of good faith to keep the companies on board with the networks for future NFL seasons.

If the NFL wants to stop the landslide of television ratings, there are a few things it must address.

First and foremost, get rid of the Thursday games. Not only would this be beneficial to the viewers’ eyes that are forced to look at the hideous Color Rush uniforms, but the product of actual football is horrendous. Teams are forced to play on only three day’s rest and the resulting play in not up to standard with where professional football should be.

Players are still physically ailing from their game the prior Sunday. If the NFL truly valued player health and safety, they wouldn’t force its players to try to speed up recovery times and subject their bodies to greater risk. Playing on Thursday also cuts down on preparation time for coaches. As a result, schemes end up looking very basic and play execution is far from mastery during the game.

Then there is the “Kaepernick” Effect. Fans are not watching football because they are outraged at the variety of stances and protests that players are making. A recent survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports found that 32 percent of Americans are less likely to watch NFL telecasts because of national anthem protests.

People tend to watch sports in order to escape from the drama and vitriol of the real world. By failing to really address any of the protest issues, Roger Goodell and the NFL are continuing to turn away fans.

The NFL also needs to address a common depiction of its acronym: The No Fun League. Players are continually being flagged and fined for putting a little personal flare on their celebrations. Josh Norman was fined for shooting an imaginary bow-and-arrow. Pittsburgh Steelers’ wide receiver Antonio Brown has been flagged and fined multiple times for one too many pelvic thrusts in the end zone and for wearing custom cleats.

Fans tune into the NFL for entertainment. If the league continues to censor the individuality of its players, fans won’t be entertained.

Despite the huge drop in ratings this year, the NFL may win out if it can just remain patient through mid-November. Perhaps the only two culprits the league has to blame for its poor numbers are everyone’s two favorite Americans: Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump.

In what has certainly been an entertaining election cycle, Americans have just become temporarily consumed with these two politicians. The league has seen TV ratings dip in six straight election years, so maybe this is just a blip on the radar that the league should not be overly concerned with.

Perhaps the ultimate panacea for the NFL: a three-way debate on the NFL Network on Thursday night between Clinton, Trump and Commissioner Goodell.

SchlarpThomas Schlarp is a sophomore in the School of Nursing and Health Studies. The Stove appears every Tuesday.

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