NFL Viewership Continues to Decline


Many events have unfolded in the 2016 year which have resulted in a decline in NFL viewer ratings. (COURTESY OF KEITH ALLISON VIA FLICKR)


Viewership for what some call “America’s game,” is down in double digit percentages since last year, which has caused owners and the league to scramble for explanations. Six weeks into this season, viewership has been down 11 percent across the league. Since this news was shared by the National Football League (NFL), people have come up with a litany of explanations. Among the most popular theories are: it was an election year, the violence of the game, poor officiating and political protests.

One of the most prevalent reasons for why people aren’t tuning into games was that it was an election year. As this election season has been one of the most divisive and watched elections in recent history it seems that many people may turn to the election, by watching coverage from news channels or debate coverage and watch that instead of games. This was the case when two of the debates fell on a Thursday and Monday night, putting the two in direct competition. John Murphy, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’19, said: “This election season was far more entertaining television than an NFL game.” The fact that it was an election season may explain why some games had lesser viewership, but not overall.

Next, is the fact that the game is becoming increasingly violent, and officials aren’t doing much to stop this rampant issue. It is no secret that football is one of the most violent professional sports and that every time players step on the field they are risking their bodies. But as technology improves and actions are put under a microscope people are more aware of the long term injuries playing in the NFL causes. This is especially true with the stark increases in head injuries such as concussions.

On top of this we see referees not doing what they should to help players. While the league is trying to stop hits to the head, these injuries are still very prevalent. Carolina Panthers Quarter-Back Cam Newton, who is one of the most recognizable and vocal athletes in the game, feels that officials are not calling penalties on clear hits to the head, which can cause long term ailments. Pete Haplan, FCLC ’17, said, “I don’t like watching players go out there and get hit in the head while the refs just stand there and watch, it’s taking away from the game.”

The other side to the officiating is that they are cracking down on excessive celebrations, which the league deems detrimental to the game. Many feel this is an unnecessary use of authority and that celebrations add entertainment and fun to an otherwise violent game. Jon Oak, Gabelli School of Business at Lincoln Center (GSBLC) ’18, said,: “I will still watch games with my family but won’t go out of my way to watch them otherwise, because stopping players from having fun takes fun out of the game for me.” Having an increase in injuries and poor officiating have certainly lead to fewer people wanting to watch football.

The last main theory for the decline in viewership is the political protests that many athletes in the league are taking part in. The protests started in the preseason with Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem in response to police violence. This action has become widespread across the league, and many other players are doing the same or performing similar actions to voice their opinions. While some see athletes using the platform that they have earned as a positive, but others see it as a distraction from the game, and feel it is inappropriate. Sporting News conducted a 1,000 person poll in early October and found that 32 percent of people said they would stop watching games because of the political protests. One FCLC senior who spoke anonymously stated, “I watch NFL games to ignore political protests, so when athletes do partake in them I would just rather not watch the games.” It is very clear that these protests have had an impact, as they have made national headlines in recent months, but it is unclear whether they have had a positive or negative impact.

While the NFL did set a record high for viewership in their most recent Thursday night game, many still love the game. One such individual is Jenna Pulvermiller, FCLC ’18, said, “I still love to watch football games because I am dedicated to my team, and love the feeling of camaraderie with the other fans.” The NFL still need to determine why their numbers have been down across the board. There are clearly many factors involved, and only time will tell which had the biggest influences.