With only a few weeks left in the regular season, it’s official, 2017 has been a down year for Sunday Night Football, one of the NFL’s most prominent national TV audience productions. Part of that downturn has been some of the games. National NFL viewers just don’t get as “up” for, as an example, Ravens v. Steelers as they used to. Even a down-to-the-wire 39 to 38 nail-biter could not put viewers in front of the TV.
And it hasn’t helped that the Cowboys and Giants are both having terrible years. That fact is telling, considering the 2016 Sunday night matchup between the Giants and the ‘Boys was the biggest regular season primetime game since Thanksgiving 2015. The real ‘not so secret,’ secret, is that the NFL is hurting for ratings overall. Both NBC and CBS games have seen a significant drop from last year to this year, and ESPN is down as well. Fox did see a bit of a bump, but nothing, really, to write home about. Taken overall, the NFL is hurting, and it needs something to stop the bleeding.
One possible reason for the downturn in viewership is that many top players have been hurt or otherwise out this season. The Dolphins, Giants, Packers, and Cowboys are among several top-draw teams that are struggling to find wins as they have big-name starters out for the season. It’s gotten so bad in New York, that Eli Manning was benched for a game, further enraging already frustrated fans. Without their quarterbacks, the Dolphins and Packers are tough to watch, and, without their star running back, the Cowboys are simply being outclassed in their own division. But that, of course, is the “reason” most people are not willing to accept. There’s simply no escaping the fact that politics is playing a role in this downturn. As players kneel, and as the president continues to tweet about it, more viewers are turning off the TV and vowing to do something else.
As long as that is happening, people will continue to make “statements” by refusing to view games. And, as long as teams are not performing on the field, it makes it that much easier for these protests of the protests to continue.
With this dynamic in play, both the NFL and the networks that broadcast the games will need to go back to the drawing board to get fans back in front of their TVs. They thought the problem would go away on its own, and it hasn’t. They may have waited too long to save this season, but the solution for next year needs to start today. Especially since the players are in the process of developing a new set of collective rules that may further change the game.