The NFL has been on a ratings decline for the past few years and the organization is hoping to blame anyone but themselves. Whether it’s the political climate, players expressing their opinions, or controversy about the long-term health effects of football, the NFL seems convinced an outside force is hurting their viewership. However, the truth is the NFL has lost touch with younger viewers and unlike the NBA, they just can’t energize people to tune in.
It’s become increasingly popular to blame the drop in NFL ratings on the anthem protests. The movement garnered just as much vocal criticism as it did support which led many to believe it encouraged people to stop watching. This is also a theory many media outlets suggested as well, and something the NFL seemed to believe. In fact, eagle-eyed viewers could notice many broadcasts of the games would simply not show the players during the National Anthem.
However, this theory easily be disproven by the significant rise in the NBA ratings. On average, NBA stars speak out about more social issues compared to any other athletic organization. The players constantly take to Twitter to express their viewpoints, which has led to many social media showdowns. Comparatively, the NFL has players less engaged with social media and most of their controversy just involves the anthem protests. So how exactly could the yearly viewership be going down so significantly based off of that?
Maybe it’s the fact that Sunday is no longer a dead night for television. Plenty of networks started scheduling shows, especially ones aimed towards families. While kids might not be interested in football, plenty of them can gather around and check out a myriad of sitcoms, or even American Ninja Warrior, and sometimes PG rated genre shows.
Yet, the NFL has a similar problem to the MLB that it can’t reach younger viewers. The big reason is that the the organization isn’t as drama filled and entertaining behind the scenes. For the most part, the NFL wants its players to keep their heads down and play football. They put rules preventing showmanship and excessive dancing, which kills the celebrations. Yet, both athletic organizations do well with baby boomers and people near the top end of the Nielsen scale.
The players are also much older, with team leaders in their late thirties who have grown humble and experienced with interviews. Their social media accounts are there and run by publicists to update audiences with the bare minimum. It’s something the aging organization doesn’t understand, social media is a huge factor for the next generation. The NBA is constantly engaging with fans, and hyping up the drama between teams, players, and even administrations. Fans like to feel like they’re a part of the experience and seeing the crazy antics some of these younger players get into.
Of course, there are some people who believe the continuing threat of brain damage keeps viewers from tuning in. This too seems unlikely, considering most football fans have been aware of the dangers of playing the sport. Goodell can keep pretending like concussions and lasting brain injuries are false, but generally viewers know. Clearly it didn’t cause them to stop watching for years so it provably isn’t now either.
Yet, viewers shouldn’t rule out injury just because of long-term effects. The truth is, NFL players are so prone to injury that fans don’t want to tune in if the super star is out of the game. Sadly, this is an extremely common occurrence, with many players forced to miss a large chunk of the season or even the playoffs. Last year the NFL was plagued by quarterback injuries which left franchises in disarray. It left audience members stuck with watching rookies or inexperienced backups try to figure out ways to win games with mediocre performances. Why tune in for that when you can catch the highlights somewhere else?
Finally, a big reason football viewership has declined is because the sport has simply become less popular. Parents are less inclined to let their children tackle a sport which can lead to some serious injuries. Not every school has the space for a football field, or the budget for the upkeep. They would need to be able to provide training equipment, gear, and uniforms for players which becomes costly overtime. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as much of a gender inclusive sport as basketball, baseball/softball, hockey, tennis, or soccer.
So how exactly can the NFL help their ratings improve. The main thing is sending their younger players to visit schools and colleges to try to snag younger viewers. Their goal should be acquiring a new generation of audience members and maintaining them over time. It’s also important to have players engaging with fans on social media, with responses and discussion. Weirdly enough, it’s something the CW acknowledged early on about garnering attention online. Finally, it’s time for the NFL to find better ways for people to tune in for football games. Television in general has slowly been dying with the rise of streaming services and the NFL should offer something serious for audiences to view on the go.