NFL TV Ratings: Is the Presidential Race Causing the Decline in Viewership?

So far during the 2020 NFL season, TV ratings and viewership across the league has trended downward compared to the previous two seasons.

Likewise, in 2016, NFL ratings dropped significantly. For a two-year span viewership declined, and numerous theories as to why circulated throughout the media. Analysts blamed concussions, players’ off-field issues, and the quality of play in games. Additionally, many blamed the social justice movement started by former quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016 as to why ratings took a dive.

In 2020, some of the same reasons for the decline in viewership are still prevalent. Some think current pregame protests are the issue, while others think the number of paid TV subscriptions has declined in the digital age. Regardless, pro football is still the most valuable programming on TV. Signs of weakened ratings are cause for concern by network executives and media companies everywhere.

The numbers show that NFL ratings are down and that households with paid TV subscriptions are a long-term obstacle for the league. However, it’s possible that viewership is hurting because of the election, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

NFL Ratings Decline Due to the Election and Its Coverage

Statistics show one major factor of the ratings collapse in 2016 to be the election. In 2016, viewership of NFL games dropped 14 percent in the weeks leading up to the election. Yet, ratings dropped only 5 percent in the weeks after the election.

In 2020, even before the presidential debates begin, the elections’ effect on football can be seen in the increase in cable news ratings.

Every cable news network’s viewership is up double digits this year, and in some cases triple digits. During Week 1 of the NFL season, cable news ratings were up 42 percent. That equals more than one million viewers during almost every NFL window of games played says Fox’s Mike Mulvihill.

Pro Football Ratings Dropping Due to COVID-19 Adjustments

Unlike in 2016, all six major sports leagues resumed their seasons at the same time this fall because of adjusted schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an unprecedented time in the history of televised sports. It may seem like great news for sports fans since there is an abundance of televised sports available to watch. However, it also means even the most die-hard fans could miss games they normally watch.

Currently, NFL games are airing against the NBA playoffs, tennis grand slams, and the Stanley Cup playoffs. In addition, they are facing the regular season of baseball and college football. By the ratings, pro football is more popular than pro basketball, baseball and hockey combined. However, there is overlap in many of those fan bases.

Viewership for basically every sports league is down this year due to competition, including the NBA and NHL. But, viewership of all sports combined in the fall is up. Obviously, because there are more sports being played all at once.

NFL ratings on the decline will be a story all season, but it likely won’t have a large impact on the business of the NFL. Look no further than current bidding for the rights to air NFL games in 2022 as proof of the NFL’s value and popularity.

Rates of Sunday afternoon games could double from $1 billion annually to $2 billion annually, according to a CNBC article from earlier this year. ESPN pays $2 billion annually for Monday Night Football and may need to pay $3 billion just to keep the package. Renewals will likely be seven or eight-year deals.

Each network that currently owns the rights to NFL coverage wants to keep or expand its package as other competitors look to enter the bidding. And it is clear network executives are all willing to pay substantial increases to do so.

[H/T Bloomberg]