Despite Sunday Night Football being, yet again, the top program on TV, the NFL has not had the best year for TV ratings. Viewership is down, as consumer habits are changing and more people are seeing their “TV time” split among standard cable offerings and streaming media.
That said, the NFL conference championships helped the league pull out of the slump in a big way. More than 40 million people tuned in to watch each game, easily besting any other programming this year. The NFC title game was, according to Fox, the most-watched broadcast since the Super Bowl. Those are huge numbers no matter how you slice it. But not everything is good news and silver linings. As compared to last season, this year’s conference championship games still saw fewer viewers, and that’s something that must be giving the NFL fits headed into this season’s Super Bowl.
AFC Championship Down Five Percent
How bad was it, exactly? Despite an exciting game between the Cinderella Jaguars and the perennial favorite Patriots, the AFC Championship game was down about five percent as compared to last year’s early game matchup that pitted the Packers against the streaking Falcons. The late game, which turned out to be the NFC Championship this year between the Vikings and the Eagles saw a 12 percent drop, despite the intrigue headed into the game. It didn’t help that it was a blowout being fought between two backup quarterbacks, but a double-digit drop is bad news no matter who’s slinging the pigskin.
After the disappointing showing, the NFL trotted out the same tired excuses it has been pushing all season: injuries, too many options, worse matchups… But these are things the NFL deals with every year. Sure, the league saw some key losses: multiple starting quarterbacks, including Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, and about half the starters in New York, but that simply cannot account for the early Exodus of fans this season.
NFL is Worried
The downturn is real, and it has to have the NFL worried headed into the Super Bowl, much less into the draft and considering the prospects for next season. All year, the NFL has been dragged into political scraps thanks to player protests of the National Anthem. And, as much as the NFL doesn’t want those protests to be an issue, they clearly are. That makes this drop in viewership about more than too many options.
It’s a public relations failure, and it’s not going away anytime soon. The league can choose to ignore it, or the league can act. Only one of these options offers any hope of regaining lost viewers between now and next season.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States