We’re five weeks into the new NFL season, and three ratings facts are indisputable:
-The NFL’s ratings are sharply down from last year.
-Everyone has an explanation for that decline.
-No one is interested in hearing any explanations that contradict their own. America!
As with all statistics, the NFL’s ratings are a Rorschach blot that reveals whatever you wish. If you want to believe the NFL’s now-effectively-invisible political stance is nonetheless harming its viewership numbers, there’s ample numerical evidence. And if you want to note that even with the slide, the NFL remains far and away the dominant force in television, why, you can do that too.
And if you want to go far out on a limb and suggest that the fact that viewership for virtually all sports is down, news viewership is way up, a pandemic is raging, multiple entertainment options abound, and this year is probably an outlier for a thousand other reasons, well, you can go that route as well.
Let’s dig into the numbers from this past week, via Sports Media Watch and network PR (Tuesday night not yet available):
Thursday Night Football: Chicago’s upset of Tampa Bay brought in 14.71 million viewers, boosted by Fox carrying the game rather than just the NFL Network. That total was a 3% uptick from the same period, over the same networks, as last year. Last week’s NFL Network-only broadcast drew 5.41 million; the 270% week-over-week increase is largely due to the more easily accessible Fox broadcast. (That would suggest viewers are not so much tuning out the NFL as just not actively seeking it out.)
Sunday Night Football: Seahawks-Vikings was a fine game that came down to a final drive, but it nonetheless comes in 17% off last year’s total, with 15.08 million viewers. Of note: This game was competing with what turned out to be the decisive game of the NBA Finals.
CBS: The late Sunday game of Giants-Cowboys was a numerical beast, drawing 22.87 million viewers for a game usually reserved for Sunday night. (The terrible state of New York’s teams is, without a doubt, a factor in ratings discussions.) That total was nonetheless 7% off last year. CBS’s early game, Las Vegas-Kansas City, drew 14.14 million viewers, off 17% from last year.
Fox: The Fox Sunday slate has been one of the season’s few high points. Not so much this week, as a mixed bag of regional games, led by Eagles-Steelers, drew 12.49 million viewers, off 23% from last year’s game.
Worth noting: With the NBA and NHL seasons done and baseball in its traditional October playoff run, the calendar is starting to sort itself out once again. However, it’s also worth noting that the presidential election will continue to consume the attention of much of the viewing public, now and likely long after the election. We may be waiting until 2021 to see a “normal” NFL broadcast playing field, and who knows what will be happening then?
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
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