The NFL ratings have not slacked because of anthem protests by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and company. The NFL ratings have not slacked because of the increased awareness of concussions. The NFL ratings have not slacked because of poor commentators.
No, none of those theories have any validity whatsoever. What is causing the dip in ratings, you ask?
First, the quality of football during primetime games (Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights) has been awful. After watching the Cardinals and Seahawks play an entire regulation and overtime period only to end in a tie, I wish I was one of the countless Americans to change the channel after the first half. Both teams struggled offensively in what should have been an exciting game on Sunday Night Football.
The games have been ultra sloppy, especially on Thursday nights. Teams simply do not have enough time to prepare for a Thursday night game after playing a grueling, exhausting game just four days prior. Players that suffer injuries on Sunday have virtually no chance to recover in time for a game on Sunday. Not only does this lead to some of the best players sitting out, but players who are not fully recovered (but not injured) tend to commit more penalties since they fatigue much quicker. They are also more prone to sustaining an injury for the same reason. All teams are required to play one game on Thursday night each year, but for a league that claims it is committed to player safety, forcing teams to play two games with less than a full week of rest in between isn’t just unrealistic, it’s unhealthy and unsafe.
Next, people have more ways to follow games. Sure, I bet the NFL is accounting for viewers streaming games live on Twitter. Non-television viewers cannot account for an 11% dip in ratings alone. What’s happening is that more people will simply follow a game by reading Twitter feeds, checking the scores of their fantasy lineups, catching ten-second clips on Snapchat, or simply catching the highlights (*read* lowlights) the next day. The last thing the NFL should have done provided fans with more ways to follow football other than sitting on the couch the old fashioned way.
Third, the sequence of an NFL game is absurd. How can anyone tolerate a commercial/kickoff/commercial combination without becoming disinterested? There are far too many commercials to keep this need-it-now, short-circuited culture engaged! If you check your TV guide you will find a three- to three-and-a-half hour block dedicated to a single football game. You know how much action, on average, is in a single game? Just 11 minutes. Yep, that few. If you divide that by two (offense and defense), the typical player will spend less than 6 minutes on the field.
You know what else chaps my ass? We still don’t know what a catch is because the NFL and its referees cannot consistently enforce what it claims is a catch. Players are being flagged for celebrating at a record pace in what has become the No Fun League. The “Color Rush” uniforms are visually oppressive. The league continues to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to doling out punishments for domestic violence. Roger Goodell – the judge, jury, and executioner – is a dictator when it comes to discipline. It’s time for the owners to discipline him. It’s hard to embrace a league that focuses more on testing for marijuana use than holding its employees accountable for abusing women.
Lastly, it’s an election year. The presidential debates notched historically high ratings because more people are bigger fans of the two moronic candidates than they are of tuning into a sloppy football game during the week.
I write this post as I watch the Week 8 Thursday night matchup between the Jaguars and Titans. Exhilarating, right? If you take a look at Neil Paine’s post on FiveThirtyEight, you’ll see that this Jags-Titans matchup is just the fifth-worst primetime game of all-time, and just the third-worst matchup between the two teams ever! (The worst and second-worst games between the AFC South foes came in 2014 and 2015, respectively.) I’ll need some self-reflection tomorrow to determine why I bothered to stay awake until midway through the third quarter.
Don’t blame an American being an American for a lack of viewership. Don’t blame fans for tuning into other programs. Ratings are just a disguise for the deeper issues with the NFL. Its soft stance on domestic violence, inconsistent officiating, and unattractive play sequence deserve attention. The NFL needs to fix itself.