For weeks now, as the NFL prime time ratings have come in and they’ve been less than stellar, confusion has reigned in the halls of the once vaunted sports league. What could POSSIBLY be causing this, executives of both the league and the television networks dependent on the revenue from advertising during the games ask. What is making people tune out?
Inside the league, and among the sportscasters, the reasons this is so are not exactly reflective of the comments one sees in social media, and on blog posts and news stories. The people wrapped up on the inside of the game blame:
- New media viewing habits including live streaming and some fast paced subscription product called “NFL Redzone.”
- Concussion syndrome.
- Women walking away despite attempts to retain them.
- Exposure of the thug culture inside the sport.
- Tom Brady serving a suspension at the beginning of the season.
- Lack of competitive games. (Word is they are BO-ORING.)
- Quarterbacks not living up to the promise of their youth.
- Poor tackling.
- Competition from a compelling election season.
- Peyton Manning retiring.
- Bad officiating.
- Games broadcast on too many nights, and they take too long.
And on and on. The reasoning centers around the product. In some ways, that is refreshing in that the league recognizes that what is on the field has to be entertaining to hold an audience’s interest. On the other hand, it ignores the elephant in the room of Colin Kaepernick sitting out the national anthem to protest police brutality and oppression of minorities, two national memes that millions of Americans see as being social engineering by George Soros. The ratings began to fall as soon as that protest happened and took hold. Fans everywhere commented on public forums that they were done with the league after that. And how does the league respond? From Bloomberg:
In the preseason, Kaepernick began sitting down or taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem to protest police injustice and the oppression of black people in the U.S. The protests have since been adopted, in one form or another, by other players around the league, which has drawn praise from plenty of fans and sportswriters. But within the world of conservative talk radio and websites, Kaepernick now ranks up there in the bugaboo pantheon with George Soros and Benghazi.
Which says that the NFL does not know its fan base very well. Many Americans who are very much enthusiasts of the game at any level are not part of the “blame America for every ill” crowd. In fact, just the opposite. In backing Kaepernick, the high gurus of the NFL and sports broadcasting put their money on the wrong horse, and killed their golden goose.
The powers that be will deny it, but the demise of the NFL’s television ratings are a direct result of not rebuking Kaepernick. The double digit drops in television ratings for the prime time broadcasts did not start until that happened despite waning popularity of the sport in recent years. Yes, there are numerous issues that the National Football League can and should look at to improve the product both on and off the field, but they need to remember that sports is an escape from reality for fans, not a vehicle to try to shape it. And when dependent on customers for revenue, it is never a good idea to insult them or their sense of patriotism even if some people connected to the league brush off concern.
Lee Berke, president and chief executive officer of consulting firm LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media, believes the drop in audience is largely illusory and that people are overreacting. “You’re looking at 20 years of growth, and everybody is talking about four or five games,” he says. “There are fluctuations in election years and whether you have certain players around. But overall it’s been a substantial increase and retention of audience in the midst of virtually every other category of programming falling off—from sitcoms, to dramas, to movies. The NFL is very resilient.”
That remains to be seen. In this writer’s hometown, the NFL is dead. It may well be dying in many other locales. We’ll see what happens with the ratings now that the World Series is over and after the election takes place.