The death of football, installment #1437

by on October 16, 2016 at 11:03 am in Sports, Television | Permalink

…the NFL is seeing its ratings tumble in the same way that the Olympics, awards shows and other live events have, falling more than 10 percent for the first five weeks of the season compared with the first five weeks of last season. A continued slide, executives say, could pose an even bigger danger: If football can’t survive the new age of TV, what can?

Football’s traditional TV audience “is never going to be what it was again,” said Brian Hughes, a senior vice president at Magna Global, which tracks audience and advertising trends.

The explosion of modern entertainment options, offered on more devices and at any time, has splintered American audiences and sped TV’s decline, Hughes said. “Sports seemed to be immune from it — it was live, the last bastion of broadcast television. But [the world] has caught up to it now.”

That is from Drew Harwell, and much of the decline seems to be coming from cord-cutting, audience fragmentation, and also the presence of a somewhat controversial election season, which has drawn some viewers (not me) to cable news.

1 8 October 16, 2016 at 11:23 am

The NFL tried too hard to expand outside of its base audience. Now it is losing core fans along with the marginal fan. There is no pareto-optimal move that doesn’t involve shedding more of its audience.

2 Troll me October 16, 2016 at 11:26 am

In an age where attention span is limited to 10-second micro bites of information (or propaganda), a sport that only has action every minute or so is going to struggle.

Maybe they need to work on getting to the next play faster?

On the other extreme, basketball never stops moving, but there is rarely anything fantastic about any particular point, so it can get a little repetitive.

As a Canada, naturally I feel that hockey strikes the right balanace (perhaps more so than soccer). The action rarely stops, but when someone scores it’s a really big deal.

3 harryh October 16, 2016 at 11:40 am

I actually disagree that the trends of the age don’t lend themselves to footballs “1 play per minute” pace. In today’s second screen age people are, less and less, giving their full attention to a single screen. Instead they’re watching something on TV while simultaneously using a laptop or phone to browse the web / text with friends / use social media.

Football lends itself perfectly to this environment. It’s easy to keep up with the action (or catch an important play on replay if you weren’t quite paying enough attention) while simultaneously doing other things. My football viewing experience is greatly enhanced by Twitter in this respect. I can hardly watch a game without it now.

4 Troll me October 16, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Good point.

5 A Definite Beta Guy October 16, 2016 at 1:06 pm

I actually agree with both points. Football and baseball are great sports to watch, just for different reasons than hockey. Hockey is definitely the most exciting, fast-paced sport to watch IMHO, for exactly the reasons you mention. But football is the most enjoyable social sport to watch, if only because there’s a break between plays where I can give a quick line to friends.

Also football has more identifiable “big” plays than hockey, specifically every 3rd down. Hockey doesn’t quite have the same identifiable momentum shift, in that respect.

6 Thiago Ribeiro October 16, 2016 at 5:50 pm

What about soccer? Soccer is war by other means.

7 Mark Thorson October 16, 2016 at 9:02 pm

No, no. War is soccer by other means.

8 Thiago Ribeiro October 17, 2016 at 3:41 am

Soccer is the training of the warrior. The Paraguayan War was won on the playing fields of Maracanã Stadium — or would have been if the stadium had already been built by them, which it hadn’t. Total football is preparation for total war.

9 JMCSF October 17, 2016 at 8:31 am

This is exactly why Disney is rumored (unlikely though) to be considering a Twitter acquisition. Get some smart people to build/design Twitter into ESPN and it could make sense.

10 Mark Thorson October 16, 2016 at 4:46 pm

Oh, baloney. If that were true, we’d never see golf on television. Golf is like watching paint dry.

11 TV Researcher October 17, 2016 at 11:04 am

Golf is watched predominantly by the 55+ set, which is the same demographic who aren’t cord cutters.

12 Cyrus October 16, 2016 at 7:11 pm

They can edit the game down to a 15-20 minute product that still shows each minute of action.

13 Doug October 16, 2016 at 9:38 pm

The existential risk to football isn’t basketball, baseball, soccer or hockey. It’s e-sports. Physical athletics are limited by the durability of the human body. You have to make the tradeoff between lots of downtime to players recover (football) or low impact, but boring, continuous play (soccer or basketball). Video game avatars can go 100% non-stop. That’s why e-sports are the only major sporting events that are actually increasing in popularity among the under 30 crowd.

14 Thiago Ribeiro October 17, 2016 at 3:42 am

Soccer is not boring.

15 Slappy McFee October 17, 2016 at 7:18 am

You are correct. Boring is too nice of a word for how punishingly dull futbol is.

16 Floccina October 17, 2016 at 12:18 pm

I think hockey is to chaotic and random. I think Rugby sevens gets a lot of continuous action. The NBA should go to 2 periods like college and reduce the number of foul shots by giving the fouled team the ball and 1 shot on a shooting foul.

17 derek October 16, 2016 at 11:32 am

You mean people are not showing up in droves to hear the incisive political commentary by sports play by play announcers?

18 Thor October 16, 2016 at 11:58 am

It’s contemporary America. Some people kneel because they are extremely devout, and some kneel because they are extremely political.

19 The Other Jim October 16, 2016 at 1:33 pm

> incisive political commentary

Exactly. The NFL packages lefty commentary into every game, and somehow that doesn’t play in the heartland. It’s a total mystery.

NPR, which has been trying to kill the NFL for at least fifteen years, was hilarious last week. There were discussing the ratings plunge, which would normally be a cause for celebration for them. But they were very nervous – could it possibly be attributed to the players who insult the country and wear socks with pigs dressed as cops? So they brought in their patented “Guest Who Reassures Lefties That Their Worldview Will Never, Ever Be Challenged” to repeatedly state this was COMPLETELY impossible.

Kudos to Tyler for falling in line and not even mentioning it among his list of causes. I’m sure the plunge is because people need to see more election coverage!

20 gab October 17, 2016 at 12:00 pm

That’s completely illogical. If the NFL actually packaged “lefty commentary into every game” why did it take so long for the NFL to not play in the heartland?

Was it just this year that “the heartland” figured it out? If so, they must be pretty dumb…

21 jizay October 17, 2016 at 1:13 pm

I wouldn’t rule that factor out so quickly. There has been an explosion of political discussion on ESPN and Foxsports, for example, over the past year. I’m not particularly political and it’s turned me off. These guys are not in any way uniquely positioned to discuss the political and cultural issues of our day; they were chosen because of their expertise in discussing sports. Now I have to listen what Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, or Shannon Sharpe thinks about Ruth Bader Ginsburg vs. Colin Kaepernick? No thanks. And that’s bleeding through into the rest of it – I can’t get as excited about football because I can’t stomach any of the commentary throughout the week.

22 lemmy caution October 19, 2016 at 10:09 am

So the reason the NFL’s audience is growing older is that it is becoming too liberal?

23 Tarrou October 16, 2016 at 11:44 am

The data misses the culture.

Football fans are what Scott Alexander might call “red tribe”. Not necessarily republican politically, but middle-of-the-country culturally. The owners, the TV executives and an increasing number of the players are “blue tribe”, and animated by blue concerns. Conflict is and always was inevitable. Now the NFL as an organization has decided to mobilize itself politically, and lecture their base on what an awful pack of racists they are. Of course, blue culture more broadly wants to end football as a sport, so they are participating in their own marginalization. Doesn’t make much economic sense, but economics don’t run human psychology, tribalism does.

24 The Other Jim October 16, 2016 at 12:01 pm

Spot on! The undertaker of American Football is Barack Obama himself.

25 Tarrou October 16, 2016 at 1:25 pm

If that is what you read in my comment, might I suggest you try Heatstreet.

26 libert October 16, 2016 at 12:09 pm

I was wondering how long it was going to take until someone blamed Obama. I would have taken the “over” on 7 posts, but then again this IS Marginal Revolution.

27 Aaron October 16, 2016 at 12:52 pm

Funny how the tribal mind automatically reads “Obama” into the above comment.

28 libert October 16, 2016 at 5:58 pm

That was a reply to The Other Jim, who explicitly referenced Obama. Although it would be an equally appropriate response to Tarrou substituting “liberals” in place of Obama.

29 Tarrou October 16, 2016 at 7:13 pm

“Liberals”, now there’s a word I neither used nor meant. Both you and Other Jim are reading things that aren’t there.

30 mavery October 16, 2016 at 9:49 pm

Honest question. What distinction are you making between “blue culture” and “liberals”?

31 Tarrou October 17, 2016 at 5:13 pm

Blue/Red cultures are necessarily fuzzy terms, but I think they get to the basic split in our country. They sometimes follow political lines, but often do not. Jeb Bush is a “blue” Republican, the stereotypical union guy is a “red” democrat. Broadly speaking, I’d say blue culture is the urban side of the urban/rural split, the top and the bottom of the income distribution arrayed against the middle, and the commanding heights of the intellectual power structures. There’s a fair bit of racial connotation as well, red tribe being vastly, though not monochromatically, white. Red tribers are ringed both figuratively and literally by the blue tribe on the coasts and in major cities around the country, as well as by the media, entertainment complexes and university systems. But they are also the majority of the nation, and probably a supermajority of taxpayers.

32 JC October 17, 2016 at 5:39 am

Or Colin Kaerpernick…

33 lemmy caution October 19, 2016 at 10:04 am

The NFL is 68 percent black so there is not a lot of Trump voters among the players.

34 chuck martel October 16, 2016 at 12:10 pm

Football is a bad product. See Thomas Boswell’s somewhat dated piece here: The pro game itself was a minor commodity until it got into bed with television. As time has passed the action has become more and more of a brief interlude in a massive product marketing effort. The game is so complex and governed by so many rules that even the people coaching and playing it can’t understand it. The normal fan really doesn’t understand pro football. That’s why America’s supposedly most popular game requires in-depth continuous analysis during broadcasts by chattering announcers.

The NFL Europe experiment that ended in 2007 was ignored by the US media. An international development league that was costing the NFL 30 million dollars a year (change under the couch cushions for that organization) was just too much for the predators that run it to absorb. People are starting to realize that the NFL is an acceptable form of criminal enterprise.

35 Other derek October 16, 2016 at 7:27 pm

This is my diagnosis as well. The nfl is just not quality, partly because executives have been focused on maintaining their idea of power rather than adapting and tweaking the rules for aesthetics, a la the very successful shift of the nba away from the post Jordan malaise. There aren’t enough good quarterbacks, and it is a quarterback’s league… So the product has wildly deteriorated from its recent heyday (Kurt warner’s Rams, Peyton’s colts, etc).

36 rayward October 16, 2016 at 12:20 pm

Pro football lost me years ago. When my Godson was a boy, I would take him and a buddy or two to one or two games a year. It was a dreadful experience. The drunken, obnoxious behavior of the fans was repugnant, not unlike the behavior of Trump’s supporters at campaign appearances. Most of the venom was directed at the home team. The home team. It was so bad my Godson and his buddies didn’t want to go. It seems that Sundays bring out the worst in some people. Several years ago I was riding my bike on a Sunday morning when I came upon a police officer inspecting what appeared to be the site of an earlier accident. The officer said it was a single car accident and involved alcohol. I responded that’s why I only ride my (road) bike in the AM. The officer said that they have more DUI arrests on Sunday morning than any other time of the week. I assumed he meant early Sunday morning (i.e., late Saturday night), but no, between 9 AM and noon is when they have the most DUIs. What? Problem drinkers are binge drinkers: they start Saturday and drink right through the night into Sunday morning. Then there are the Christianists who will run you over if you get in their way going to and coming from the evangelical “community” church on Sunday morning. Who are these people? Are they the same people who attend pro football games?

37 The Engineer October 16, 2016 at 10:23 pm

You never been to a Jets game. I remember going to Jets games in the ’80s as a kid, and yes I was embarrassed by all the drunks around us. And yes, they were totally Deplorables, Jets fans are Trumpkins for sure.

But that’s why I watch it on TV, on my 70″ HDTV, and we are really talking about a TV ratings decline.

I think the real issue for me is that the games kind of suck lately. Yes, I miss Payton.

38 Thomas October 16, 2016 at 11:27 pm

I don’t know who these people are but I assume you agree with Clinton that they are deplorable and irredeemable, and really, what can be done with such people other than having your masked leftists attack them and firebomb them? In the real world, people who speed to church or get drunk in a football arena are not even worth considering compared to the violence coming from the left.

39 Daniel Weber October 17, 2016 at 10:45 am

This comment was a wild ride. A++, would thrill again.

40 hadrian October 16, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Sports and sports commentary on ESPN used to be a refuge from politics where everyone could find common ground. Now it’s hard to watch an NFL game without some agenda being pushed. I can’t even watch a Bud Lite commercial without being lectured by Amy Schumer (who I guess is supposed to be funny?). The Olympics, award shows, and other live events have the same issue – they’re striving for cultural and political relevance, to be taken seriously beyond a mere celebration of individual and collaborative achievement.

The quality of the product should be central to the conversation, and the product includes the messages that viewers are subjected to during the game.

Note that college football doesn’t seem to have the same problem. Anyone wonder why?

41 mavery October 16, 2016 at 3:16 pm

Perhaps they’ve always been pushing an agenda and only now that it’s an agenda you don’t agree with that its become noticeable a problem?

Your example of the Bud Light ads lecturing you in an off-putting way is illustrative. I hated the old commercials with bros doing stupid shit and binge drinking. I found them obnoxious and stupid. They didn’t say anything I was interested in and didn’t seem like they were addressed to me. I don’t watch commercials any more, so I’m not sure how I feel about the ones you complain about, but perhaps they’re just aimed at an audience that isn’t you, and you find that off-putting. But all it indicates is that there are other people with other views that advertisers now value more highly than people like you.

42 hadrian October 16, 2016 at 3:47 pm

I don’t disagree with any of your points. However, my point is that the change in focus has helped cause the decline in ratings. So perhaps they misjudged their incumbent audience’s tolerance for shifting their marketing emphasis into SJW talking points.

43 JC October 17, 2016 at 5:47 am

Personally, I prefer athletes with personality and engaged with social issues surrounding them, when I tune to watch a sport event I’m looking for entertainment but I do not expect it to be provided by robots who manage to ignore a whole world surrounding them.

44 OldCurmudgeon October 17, 2016 at 10:19 am

Wow, I’d say the exact opposite. I don’t care what athletes, singers, etc think about the important issues of the day. I’m paying attention to them because they are good at their sport, craft, etc. If when I’m interested in economics, politics, etc., I’ll pay attention to people who specialize in those subjects.

That said, the bigger problem with the NFL is too many commercial breaks (Team X scores a touchdown, followed commercial break. Then extra point try, followed by long commercial break. Then kickoff, followed by long commercial break.) The NFL / pro athletes need to remember they are just entertainment, and not anything important.

45 Anon7 October 16, 2016 at 5:48 pm

Guys binge drinking and doing stupid things seems consistent with the prime goal of Budweiser ads (getting guys to drink more of it). Complaining about equal pay for women–not so much.

46 bluto October 16, 2016 at 6:32 pm

So why does someone, who doesn’t watch ads and and likely exclusively drinks microbrews if any beer, shouldn’t their ads not be targeted at you? You almost certainly would never switch to their brand, so why should they care about your opinion on their ads (turning you off from the product may well be a feature to their core buyer).

47 mavery October 16, 2016 at 9:55 pm

My points is that when ads aren’t directed at me, that’s fine. The comment I was responding to seemed to be complaining along the lines of, “These ads are no longer for me”, and my point was that this is a complaint many people could’ve made about “old” ads, so complaining now is just being sad about whose demographic is more important to advertisers.

If you view the decision of broadcasts and advertisers as rational, the explanation for the shift in tone is clear: it turns out that women binge drink, too.

48 byomtov October 16, 2016 at 5:02 pm

If I had the job of promoting Bud Lite I’d do almost anything to distract viewers from the actual product.

49 Thanatos Savehn October 17, 2016 at 1:15 am


Well put. It’s like JAMA, NEJM, ABA Journal, hell, even The Economist. When the PC crowd takes over all you can do is hold your nose as you pass them by; a throng of yammering zombies. Keep on going. The real world is still out there waiting to be found.

50 Jan October 17, 2016 at 7:09 am

I believe college attendance is up and their TV deals are at all time high. So I don’t think this is a question about football so much as the NFL specifically.

51 Urso October 17, 2016 at 10:25 am

The importance of this distinction cannot be overstated.

52 Michael October 17, 2016 at 10:43 am

Correct, this key data points to it being NFL specific causes, such as their total media control and shunning of new media, refereeing and rules changes, as well as cultural statements like Kaepernick.

Back in the day, there were always at least two game on TV, whereas now, they’re trying to push viewers onto NFL network, so it is much harder for us out-of-market fans to watch our home teams. It annoys me to no end when there is only a single game at any point in time on a Sunday afternoon, and infomercials or second run movies on the other channel. Combine this with draconian control of internet streams, and blackouts of internet streaming of play-by-play from distant radio stations. They are actively preventing me from watching without ponying up $150/yr on top of a cable bill.

53 TV Researcher October 17, 2016 at 11:10 am

Excellent analysis.

Market fragmentation usually results in greater aggregate sales.

54 eccdogg October 17, 2016 at 1:00 pm

Right anyone who wants to make this a general football things has to contend with college attendance and ratings being great this year.

55 kevin October 19, 2016 at 1:01 pm

I can watch just about any college game I want. NFL, I can only watch the host city, or one or two other match-ups selected for me. No thanks, I lost the connection to my child-hood team because I didn’t feel like going out to bars to watch games or paying 300$ for a package.

56 Mark October 16, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Football success requires more collective effort. You must have an adequate quarterback, a line to protect that quarterback, skill positions to support that quarterback, and a defense to get the ball back for the quarterback. A star can better exhibit their brilliance in sports such as basketball and soccer, perhaps?

Football’s reign has been extended by fantasy sports that allow fans to track the performance of individual players regardless of team, but this may also be fading as fantasy owners start to realize how interdependent player performance is.

I’m almost serious about this.

57 Andre October 16, 2016 at 12:41 pm

I think they shot themselves in the foot with the Thursday night games, such unbelievable trash unwatchable. The work force seems to mostly hate the league and owners, tax payers getting ripped off on the stadium deals, more awareness of the crippling injuries.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the current dip was a temporary lack of star power, but when the popularity of the league can’t really be supported by the quality of the games + gambling it’s going to be pretty fragile.

58 Shane M October 16, 2016 at 1:34 pm

Agree – lack of star power is likely part of it. Likely temporary as you mention. Many of the stars are aging/retiring and there’s somewhat of a void.

I will note that I recently moved and can no longer watch my home team, so I’d like to be a fan of that team, but they’re just not available anymore (and I’m a cord cutter so that limits my options). I find it’s difficult to become interested in new teams in my area.

59 Andre October 16, 2016 at 1:43 pm

I’ve lived in the Bay Area for eight years and still go to bars at ten am to watch the pats.

60 Thistlewood October 16, 2016 at 12:53 pm

Odd, just a few years ago I was regularly predicting the demise of in-person attendance at football games, due to large televisions becoming plentiful and cheap. I would have guessed that in-person attendance would become a luxury experience for the very wealthy (stadiums would eventually be all-suites and include other premium experiences) while the masses would just watch the action at home on their $300 70 – 90 inch flat televisions. The masses at home would be able to watch multiple games at once, would be able to see immediate replays of key plays, would enjoy ironically a much better view of the game than anyone in the crowd.

If you go back to the last two years, there was a panic about falling attendance at COLLEGE football games, with most articles naming television as the culprit. A key difference is that most college football stadiums don’t sell alcohol, while your buddy with a 90-inch TV probably allows as much booze in his apartment as people want to bring.

61 The Engineer October 16, 2016 at 10:29 pm

I agree. Football has always been better on TV, and the advent of high def digital TV makes it more so. I have a 70″ TV, and it is just amazing how great it looks (baseball too!). I use an OTA antenna to get the best picture possible.

I’m going to get a 4k TV after Christmas, I’m sure it will look even better with the upconversion.

62 Cliff October 17, 2016 at 1:50 am

You probably won’t be able to tell the difference even if you can get a 4K stream

63 Lord Action October 17, 2016 at 10:43 am

This is a strong function of how close you sit, how big the TV is, how good your eyes are, and how much the periphery of what you’re viewing matters. For gaming, I’d prefer an extremely large display, because it feels more immersive.

Also, I’m suspicious of materials from the TV marketers saying that the TV I need happens to be exactly the one they’re selling at a mainstream price point right now, with that size somehow creeping up year after year.

64 James October 17, 2016 at 9:29 am

This. I still can’t get over the price of tickets. Other venues, like minor league baseball, are so much cheaper.

I remember listening to some local radio DJs talk about their stadium experience. The seats were far away. They were sitting with obnoxious people, and the ads from the jumbotrons were so loud and bright, they were forced to watch them. They couldn’t even hold a conversation. Why drop all of that money for cramped seating and the same amount of commercials. The best seat in the house is your couch.

65 Michael October 17, 2016 at 10:50 am

The most under-rated sports experience is minor-league baseball. Much closer to the game and intimate, more of an old-school experience, and far, far cheaper. Highly recommended.

66 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 11:09 am

Same thing with D-III or junior hockey. The game is virtually the same as the NHL but tickets are cheap, you’re close to the action and parking is free.

67 James October 17, 2016 at 2:27 pm

+1 for minor league baseball and hockey. I’ve been looking for rugby matches in my area too.

68 Hoosier October 16, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Ratings still blow away anything else on TV. This applies equally to the Olympics. The ratings drop is an important story but shouldn’t be exaggerated.

69 Ray Lopez October 16, 2016 at 3:30 pm

+1. I once saw an analysis of the market value of sports teams in Europe (soccer) and the USA (football). What struck me was that though the most successful soccer teams in Europe were valued very highly (Real Madrid, Arsenal, etc, no I don’t watch Premier League or the NFL), the NFL teams were also highly valued, and even the most mediocre of American football teams, like say the Detroit Lions of old, were valued at huge multiples. Maybe not as much as Real Madrid, but very high. The death of American football has been greatly exaggerated I feel. Most football fans in both Europe and the USA are not intellectuals, and I suspect don’t really care that players are brain damaging themselves with concussions. If fans wanted an intellectual sport, they’d take up chess!

70 chuck martel October 16, 2016 at 9:44 pm

The market value can only be determined when one of the franchises is actually sold and that information isn’t ordinarily made public. Nor would it be reliable if it were.

The interesting thing about professional sports is that the fans are usually obsessing about an organization with absentee owners ready to move the team at short notice and players without any other local affiliation. Thousands attend games that they don’t understand, evidently to be a part of a mass with a common outlook and goal. It’s kind of sick.

71 Pshrnk October 16, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Domestic Outsourcing has a long history.

72 Hoosier October 17, 2016 at 8:58 am

“to be a part of a mass with a common outlook and goal. It’s kind of sick.” Wanting to feel a sense of belonging and camaraderie is hardly sick. Unless you’re a complete loner I can’t understand this sentiment. Some of my best relationships have started around a shared love for a common sports team. Of course, it has to then go beyond that point. Think of love of a sports team to love of your roots. Its no different to people celebrating the 4th of July together, or St. Patrick’s day.

NFL franchises sell for insane amounts of money, so I wouldn’t doubt the value of these franchises.

73 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 10:24 am

Isn’t it interesting that a person publically wearing a Dallas Cowboys number 9 sweater with the name “Romo” on the back could be anyone in the world except Tony Romo?

74 Urso October 17, 2016 at 1:58 pm

And the person publicly wearing a St. Rita medal probably isn’t St. Rita. Trump 2016 button – not Trump. We could go on.

75 Michael October 17, 2016 at 10:52 am

American football is arguably the most intellectual major sport out there. Orders of magnitude over soccer, in particular. Baseball is the only other thing that would even compare.

76 Ken October 17, 2016 at 11:17 am

MMA is the most intellectual sport actually. “The sport of brain surgeons and econ professors,” as they call it.

77 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 11:26 am

Yeah, post-game interviews are filled with quotes from Goethe, Kant and perhaps American philosophers, if there were any. American football, with its roots in the Northeast, is a direct descendant of the Puritans and their world view. If there is a founding philosophy in the sport it’s that of Increase and Cotton Mather and John Bunyan. Team work and leadership by an enlightened coach (Vince Lombardi, Bill Walsh), everybody doing their job for the success of the enterprise, sacrifice, exchange of pleasure for suffering, all so the team owner can reap the rewards when he sells the franchise. It’s no coincidence that no part of the world that’s Catholic pays any attention to American football.

78 eccdogg October 17, 2016 at 12:49 pm

“It’s no coincidence that no part of the world that’s Catholic pays any attention to American football.”

South Bend Indiana?

79 greg October 16, 2016 at 1:21 pm

quality of play is down. thurs night games. less pre-season. really bad coaching. add the kaepernick protests and the factors mentioned in the article and it all adds up. this is a bigger problem for football, which is a tv-based sport, whereas bball and baseball can still sell the in stadium experience to balance out the tv. football is tv dependent because the in stadium experience stinks.

80 RM October 16, 2016 at 1:59 pm

Too many of you are finding patterns in secondary level data and attempting to add them up to explain primary level phenomenon.

81 Tom Hutchinson October 16, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Kaepernick’s is as exploited as the fans are by the real culprit in NFL footballs demise, the owners.

82 John October 16, 2016 at 10:49 pm

The problem is that the owners have always been around. How does this explain the decline in ratings now?

83 Tom Hutchinson October 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm

I don’t know why autocorrect added the ‘s

84 Jim October 16, 2016 at 4:43 pm

Because once, in the past, you typed “Kaepernick’s” and then told autocorrect that it was in fact a real word. Now when you type something close to that, it looks through its dictionary and helps you out by fixing it to the closest word it knows.

85 JFA October 16, 2016 at 2:41 pm

“Football’s traditional TV audience “is never going to be what it was again.”” Actually, it could be if the NFL and cable companies didn’t make it so damn hard to watch games online. If the NFL created its own streaming site, I imagine you would see a substantial increase in viewership.

86 Michael October 17, 2016 at 11:01 am

This. Give me a Roku app, and the ability to buy a subscription to just my favorite team, and not the whole league, and they’d have my money. To really make me happy, throw in multiple audio tracks so i can listen to play-by-play from my hometown radio announcers instead of the TV announcers. As it is, i watch my team from back home maybe four times a year, and don’t watch anything else besides the Super Bowl.

87 AlanG October 16, 2016 at 3:02 pm

I stopped watching NFL and college football about six years ago. I was getting tired of the incessant violence. I suspect the current data coming out on head injuries and numerous players suffering dementia will be more of a predictor for the long term decline of the sport. Fortunately, I have two daughters and football was never in the equation in terms of a sport.

88 Ray Lopez October 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Take up chess my friend…

89 Anon October 16, 2016 at 3:45 pm

Children running at each other at low speeds poses nowhere near the risk faced by NFL players. Somehow, people see stories about the NFL’s concussion problem and conflate the risks of amateur sports and professional sports. There is of course a risk that a child would have a concussion, but I suspect that many people do not have good perspective on this risk. Telling others about how you would never put your children in football scores political points with your ignorant peers, so I guess it’s rational.

90 Moelicious October 16, 2016 at 5:48 pm

My cousin’s child suffered two concussions from playground collisions. Maybe he would have benefitted from a helmet but I would never let my son play organized football.

91 Anon October 16, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Maybe you should not let him play on the playground then. Maybe you shouldn’t let him leave the house. Concussions in high school football are rare, single digits per 10000.

92 Anon October 16, 2016 at 6:08 pm

10000 games

93 Mike October 16, 2016 at 7:55 pm

Every pediatric neurologist would disagree with you. Some estimates are that a concussion occurs as often as once per game.

94 PD Shaw October 16, 2016 at 8:32 pm

Let me guess, this Anon is a Trump supporter.

95 TMC October 17, 2016 at 9:13 am

Sounded like he was defending Hillary. “concussions aren’t so bad, you could even be president!”

96 Jay October 18, 2016 at 12:51 pm


Ah the elusive “some estimates say…” argument. I would guess that people have a sliding definition of what a concussion is and its a categorical problem rather than kids actually being at higher risk.

97 Urso October 17, 2016 at 10:38 am

Preventing concussions at the pee-wee and high school levels is primarily a question of coaching proper technique and limiting the amount of full-contact scrimmaging. But pee wee and high school players are playing the game at a speed the human body is designed to handle. NFL teams (and major college teams) are not. They are purposefully pushing the boundaries of what human joints, ligaments, and bones are capable of absorbing.

98 HL October 16, 2016 at 5:37 pm

I often read the concussion/injury issue being a reason for declining viewership but I have a hard time imagining most football fans I know really caring about that. I suspect that most people understand the risk/reward that players accept and don’t give it a second thought.

99 Shane M October 16, 2016 at 7:38 pm

Agree. I think many viewers realize the players often make in salary as much in one or two years as the fan/viewer will make in an entire lifetime. That the salary comes with potential of serious injury / concussions is a trade-off that I think many fans would make (or think they’d make) if given the opportunity.

100 Urso October 17, 2016 at 10:54 am

“I think many viewers realize the players often make in salary as much in one or two years as the fan/viewer will make in an entire lifetime.”
This is only true for first round draft picks. Many NFL players, even those with relatively successful careers (ie, not like they were cut after their first training camp) walk out with something like $2-3 million lifetime pretax earnings. Yes that is a very nice chunk of change but you’re not in set-for-life territory. And then what – HS football coach? I met one guy who was a backup on the Raven’s super bowl team and five years later was working as a bouncer.

101 Michael October 17, 2016 at 11:04 am


I’m sorry, but violence is to do something with the intent to injure. That doesn’t describe football, or any sport for that matter.

102 DJD October 16, 2016 at 3:20 pm

Are fewer people watching football or just fewer people watching it through traditional means? Wasn’t quite sure based on the article. As a pretty loyal football fan, I don’t mind losing the casual viewers. Hopefully the NFL won’t cater to them as much now. And if they’re losing ratings because they’ve made the game safer, then so be it. They do need to stop flagging for excessive penalties though.

103 DJD October 16, 2016 at 3:20 pm

*excessive celebrations

104 chuck martel October 16, 2016 at 9:19 pm

My neighbor teaches high school players how to perform post-touchdown celebrations. His instruction includes videos of pro players practicing their moves in hotel rooms and gyms. There’s nothing spontaneous about it, being all part of the game now.

105 TMC October 17, 2016 at 9:16 am

Excessive celebrations are for the casual fan. What serious fan wants their running back look like he’s surprised he actually made into the end zone.?

106 OldCurmudgeon October 17, 2016 at 10:24 am

Or just stop putting them on TV, particularly the ones after a sack or 1st down.

Show a replay instead….

107 Michael October 17, 2016 at 11:05 am

The NFL has it so locked down, that it is almost impossible to watch via “non-traditional” means. It is one of their biggest problems.

108 Axa October 16, 2016 at 3:31 pm

I remember some stats that show watching NFL on TV is an adult people hobby. 70+ % of fans are 35+ yr old. Compare it to the NBA, 45% of fans are less than 35 yr old. Eventually the old NFL fans will die and earrings will go lower.

109 Axa October 16, 2016 at 3:32 pm

*ratings will go lower

110 Max October 16, 2016 at 4:26 pm

It is now possible to buy Sunday Ticket as a web-only package. Until very recently DirecTV required customers to purchase satellite service to get Sunday Ticket. But the web-only version is only out-of-market games, so cord cutters who purchase this package do not have access to Thursday, Sunday night or Monday night games (national broadcasts). If my team is playing in a national broadcast, I’ll go watch at the bar, but if they aren’t I don’t make the effort where previously I would watch whoever was playing. This could account for much of the 10% drop.

111 HL October 16, 2016 at 5:41 pm

I don’t think the web-only package is available to everyone. They still require you to have a DirectTV subscription. That’s my experience with seeing if my address was eligible just now.

112 Max October 16, 2016 at 7:41 pm

They require that you live in an address that doesn’t support satellite dishes. So single family homes wouldn’t qualify, but most apartment buildings would. If you want the package for yourself (and it’s cheaper than the satellite version) all you have to do is get an apartment dwelling friend to use his address.

113 HL October 17, 2016 at 10:48 am

If i have to go to all the effort of deceiving their algorithms I’d rather just go to a streaming site and get it for free.

114 MattW October 16, 2016 at 4:36 pm

Has there been a similar decline in the last few years or is this year’s decline different for football?

115 Unanimous October 16, 2016 at 5:45 pm

Set the time period to since 2004. It’s not TV ratings, but it gives a feel for things. Looks like a blip in an upward trend.

116 John October 16, 2016 at 10:52 pm

If you seasonally adjust that, then I would guess that it looks flat for the past few years before.

117 carlolspln October 16, 2016 at 5:06 pm

Too much expansion, too many teams, too many games, too little talent.

Oh, & Thursday Night Football?

Also, why is the National Anthem played in the USA before any professional game?

118 DJD October 16, 2016 at 6:36 pm

Too many teams and games? There’s been 32 teams since 2002 playing the same number of games.

119 bluto October 16, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Further, Thursday night football has been played since 2006, odd that this is the year that it massively affects the ratings.

120 Brooks October 16, 2016 at 10:08 pm

Thursday Night Football has only recently been played this early in the season – in 2006 and for years afterwards it was an end-of-season thing. The last few years it’s been played starting early in the season, maybe there’s a lag in terms of NFL fans realizing that seeing an inferior product is not exciting.

121 DJD October 17, 2016 at 4:24 pm

Point well taken. I think they could keep TNF, but only allow teams coming off a bye week to play in those games. They’ll have to play fewer games, but the quality should go up.

122 Mark O October 16, 2016 at 6:07 pm

For many fans football is an escape. However, recently the game has been flooded with too many other distractions – there’s the kneeling, there’s cause awareness (pink ribbons), there’s the issue about concussions. There’s Deflategate, considerable time consumed in play reviews, the players’ actions off the field. There’s the shoe deals, the sponsorships, the players that have created their own brands and are promoting them on field. There’s uniform issues, end game dancing issues, an increase in unsportmanlike conduct calls, fantasy football.

All of this detracts for the primary reason why fans watch football – to see their team go head to head with another. It’s getting to the point where the game itself is an afterthought.

123 Michael October 17, 2016 at 11:09 am

Don’t get me started on those pink ribbons. They are so bright, they actively distract from the game. And then there’s the whole counting of the pieces of flair? Ban.

124 Steve Sailer October 16, 2016 at 8:35 pm

The NFL was huge as recently as February.

The last three Super Bowls featured either Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, the greatest rivals in perhaps the history of American sports. Not surprisingly, the NFL peaked in popularity.

This year, Manning is retired and Brady was suspended for the first 4 games.

Instead, the first month of the season consisted of our betters lecturing us about the importance of Kaepernick’s protest.

125 Steve Sailer October 16, 2016 at 8:40 pm

Add in the most fun election campaign of my lifetime, and why wouldn’t people be bored with a season where the Official Big Story was the conventional wisdom of Colin Kaepernick, who was sitting on the bench or going 13 for 29 today?

126 chuck martel October 16, 2016 at 9:32 pm

“Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, the greatest rivals in perhaps the history of American sports.”

Rivals who’ve never faced one another on the field. Unlike Early Wynn and Mickey Mantle, Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio, Affirmed and Alydar.

127 Steve Sailer October 16, 2016 at 10:39 pm

“Manning and Brady played each other seventeen times.[9] Brady led the head-to-head series 11–6, though they tied 5–5 over their last 10 meetings.”

They played each other in the AFC Championship game last January. They are not on the field at exactly the same time, but still …

Great American sports rivals:

DiMaggio-Williams or Mantle-Williams? Pitcher vs. Batter, maybe Drysdale-Robinson?

128 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 12:02 am

Then Stephen Gostkowski and Brandon McManus must be pretty serious rivals, too.

129 CMOT October 16, 2016 at 8:38 pm

How come the linked article never mentions Kaepernick or the national anthem protests? A lot of people say this why they aren’t watching, but no matter what it sure seems worth at least considering. I guess the writer learned from what happened to Ginsburg …

130 chuck martel October 16, 2016 at 9:34 pm

Ruth Bader or Allen?

131 cthulhu October 16, 2016 at 10:21 pm

The Notorious Howl.

132 Economic Sophisms October 16, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Look. This is a reasonable post but let’s talk about the big issues. We have Crooked Hillary who wants nuclear war, and we have an real estate guy who wants to try and get along with the Russians, who liberated Auschwitz. I don’t know. Seems like we probably get get along with the people who beat the NAZIs.

133 JB October 16, 2016 at 10:30 pm

The Kaepernick excuse is ridiculous. If he was putting up MVP-level numbers, the reddest red state Trumpican who was a fan of his team would be cheering him on louder than anything.

As a mediocre quarterback, he becomes, well, a political football.

134 Ray Lopez October 17, 2016 at 1:04 am

+1 for political football joke, da-dah-dum!

135 Dave October 16, 2016 at 10:43 pm

I can’t believe these articles don’t focus on the boycott because of Kaepernick’s protests. The question should not be why is viewership down, but whether the boycott is the reason and how much the boycott can explain.

Suppose Black Lives Matters was leading a boycott of the NFL. Would anyone write an article asking why NFL viewership was down during the boycott? They’d probably automatically attribute the decline to BLM. Maybe a few articles would try to figure out how much of the decline was due to BLM, but they wouldn’t write an article ignoring the boycott entirely. In fact, it would be seen as insensitive or racist to write that article without mentioning BLM. How could you not be aware of the boycott?

I’m boycotting the NFL specifically because of Kaepernick. I don’t like that the NFL is allowing his protests to continue. But it seems like this can’t even be written about. I think this is why Trump has support. His supporters see themselves ignored. Their concerns are not even acknowledged in many cases.

136 j r October 17, 2016 at 4:21 am

“I’m boycotting the NFL specifically because of Kaepernick. I don’t like that the NFL is allowing his protests to continue. But it seems like this can’t even be written about. I think this is why Trump has support. His supporters see themselves ignored. Their concerns are not even acknowledged in many cases.”

2016, the year America went full emo.

137 lolz October 17, 2016 at 11:23 am

Do you understand what CK is protesting? Your post would suggest that you don’t, specifically, this part, “I’m boycotting the NFL specifically because of Kaepernick. I don’t like that the NFL is allowing his protests to continue. But it seems like this can’t even be written about. I think this is why Trump has support. His supporters see themselves ignored. Their concerns are not even acknowledged in many cases.”

So, if Trump supporters concerns are not being acknowledged, we have a real problem. But a guy protests the notion that the entire criminal justice system is a deck stacked against black men–no, no, no can’t have that.

Do you get the irony of your statement? Do Trump’s supporters need a safe space in which they can cry to each other about–what, exactly?

138 Steve Sailer October 17, 2016 at 1:36 am

Basically, it seems like everybody is trotting out all the reasons they never liked football or they stopped liking football a long time ago as explaining the NFL’s poor September 2016.

In reality, the NFL has been on an immense winning streak up through last season. It could well be that that that extraordinary growth spurt is over. It could even be that the End Is Nigh for the NFL.

Or it could be a one time thing.

We’ll see.

139 Axa October 17, 2016 at 4:55 am

Good comment. Perhaps last season was glorious and this one is just average. However the narrative of an always growing NFL business is not rational. No surprise on why Tyler is a bit contrarian and sees “the end” on an average season.

140 Hoosier October 17, 2016 at 9:01 am

It can’t go up forever. Just because there’s a drop this year doesn’t mean it’s going to keep dropping for years to come.

141 Steve Sailer October 17, 2016 at 9:29 am

I don’t watch many NFL games on TV, but I usually follow the quarterback statistics. Usually September is full of spectacular passing performances, but this year seemed to get off to a slow start. But now Matt Ryan is racking up huge numbers.

But more important for ratings … Tom Brady is back. He’s the top American athlete of the century.

142 Yancey Ward October 17, 2016 at 2:09 am

There is no real mystery here- the NFL broadcasts have joined a lot of the other fare on the old line broadcast television networks in basically pissing on half the potential audience by lecturing to them about what a proper political viewpoint is on pretty much every issue of the day, even the ones that shouldn’t even be political in the first place. Hardly surprising people are starting to simply turn off the television.

143 Peter October 17, 2016 at 3:28 am

I quit watching long before the NFL became political or I found YouTube. When the commercials became longer than the game itself and I couldn’t watch a game in an hour and a half, I quit watching. Olympics in the US lost me the same reason + all that human interest (I.e. chick) drivel. NASCAR about to lose me for the same reason as the Olympics plus all the new BS safety stuff and over use if the yellow flag. That pretty much leaves mens tennis which gets atrocious coverage and after that, well I’m done with sports and will just use Twitch replays as my sole source of competitive spectator viewing (Magic The Gathering SGC and ProTour, Eve Tournaments, and endless watching shenryyn2).

It’s not the games themselves that are losing enjoyment (they don’t need new rules, quicker play, etc), it’s the packaging and presentation killing it. Believe me I can watch 24 hours of guys playing cards on twitch, watching football isn’t that slow.

144 Joe October 17, 2016 at 6:35 am

Why watch football Sunday afternoon when you can watch MMA Saturday night? I think viewers have a violence substitute.

145 Justin October 17, 2016 at 8:15 am

Looks like the election is also driving down Bud Light sales.

Otoh, a conservative view of economics doesn’t lead to a model where left wing upper management can run unpopular advertising campaigns without facing shareholder discipline.

146 Urso October 17, 2016 at 10:31 am

The Bud Light ads are truly, truly baffling. Who exactly do they think their target market is? Or does Bud Light (and the NFL) believe that their target market is so devoted loyal that it literally doesn’t matter what they say or do?

147 JMCSF October 17, 2016 at 8:34 am

Maybe offering a better TV experience with VR sets can help or will it be too little too late?

148 Ron October 17, 2016 at 9:16 am

I’m 59 years old and a lifelong sports fan, including NFL football. I’m also a college professor and a pharmacist if that helps paint a picture. My viewing of NFL games is way down for a number of reasons. But the most significant is I would now rather be competing myself in player-vs-player MMORPG games. There are so many other activities in which I can be engaged actively rather than sitting on a couch and watching some people that don’t give a rat’s ass about me play a game. If I watch a game it’s usually my favorite team, has been recorded, and I fast forward through the commercials.

149 James October 17, 2016 at 9:41 am


150 James October 17, 2016 at 9:43 am

Can someone please explain to me how the presidential election is to blame for this? Are people so fatigued by Trump and Clinton that they stop watching spectator sports?

151 hadrian October 17, 2016 at 10:21 am

The theory, I think, is that people find election coverage so compelling that they’d rather spend their Sundays watching cable news coverage of the latest Trump or Hillary outrage than the NFL. Again, there does not appear to be the same decline in college football ratings, which casts serious doubt on this theory.

152 msgkings October 17, 2016 at 2:29 pm

Well, to be fair, the college games are on Saturday not Sunday, so they don’t conflict with the political shows.

The decline is like most things a combination of factors not just one thing, most already mentioned: there’s more channels, there’s more entertainment options (both viewing like MMA and playing like MMORPG games), there’s the Kapernick thing, there’s the lack of star power especially with Brady not playing (that factor has a natural experiment), there’s the concussion thing, there’s the Sunday political shows, there’s the boredom of commercials and officiating, etc.

It all adds up. Does it mean the end of football, no. Have the ratings perhaps peaked? Yeah maybe so.

153 msgkings October 17, 2016 at 2:33 pm

Forgot to mention the new means of viewing/highlight shows/clip shows/online streaming etc. Add that to the reasons.

154 Li Zhi October 17, 2016 at 10:09 am

I personally find “sports” which inevitably cause brain damage to be morally repugnant. Clearly, a sport in which one team paid a bounty/bonus to its players who physically injured opponents is one which has severe moral and ethical rot. But, many enjoy cock fighting, dog fighting, bull ‘fighting’, and boxing, so I don’t expect football will die off anytime soon.

155 Lord Action October 17, 2016 at 10:52 am

Do sedentary desk-jobs that also cause all manner of health problems strike you as morally repugnant?

Is it unfair to pay someone to do something unless it is actually good for them? If it’s good for the employee, is it really necessary to pay them?

156 msgkings October 17, 2016 at 2:31 pm

Lord, there’s a thing called a spectrum. One can be against the extreme violence of football without being a hypocrite for being ok with desk jobs.

157 HL October 17, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Lord knows all about the spectrum.

158 Urso October 17, 2016 at 11:00 am

I would also note that this is installment #1437 of the “death of football” yet football is, unquestionably, the single most broadly popular sport or recreation in the United States of America, across essentially all economic, political, and racial lines. Some “death.” Perhaps it’s meant as a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that people have been predicting the death of football since the 1890s or so. Football; long-dying but never dead.

159 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 11:14 am

“the single most broadly popular sport or recreation in the United States of America”

What about fishing?

160 Urso October 17, 2016 at 3:32 pm

Fishing in terms of participants. Football in terms of participants & spectators.

161 chuck martel October 17, 2016 at 5:33 pm

At a high school with 2500 students, maybe 100 of them will get to dress for a varsity game. One or two might go on to play college ball. Probably none of them will play in the NFL. There are 1696 players on active rosters in the NFL, .000005139% of the population. According to the 2011 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation America’s anglers generate over $48 billion in retail sales with a $115 billion impact on the nation’s economy creating employment for more than 828,000 people.

162 GoneWithTheWind October 17, 2016 at 11:28 am

It is the Kaepernick effect. I as middle class American who enjoys sports has endured years of ever increasing abuse by sports commentators, players and coaches. I don’t like seeing our flag and national anthem abused for personal gain by jerks. I don’t like seeing increasing demands for higher pay or better job titles based on race and not ability. I am tired of multi-millionaire players with outrageous salaries claiming discrimination while i cannot even afford the price of a ticket to watch these prima donna’s act out. Screw them!

163 Aire October 17, 2016 at 11:43 am

Have these ratings drop taken into consideration the number of people watching through less than legal streams? Having recently moved away from an area that covers my favorite team I must either pay a large sum to get the Sunday Ticket, or watch in a bar that has it to see my team. I’ve decreased the amount of football I watch in general as a result. Going to a bar and sitting for three hours is less and less enjoyable, so I watch the second half. Or I only watch the game I care about and when I get home feel I need to be productive, as opposed to my previous Sunday routine of ‘Panthers at 1, nap during the first half of the late afternoon game, and watch Sunday night football.’

164 HL October 17, 2016 at 4:31 pm

Illegal streaming has been around for a while but the quality these days is pretty darn good. I could see younger and more computer savvy people using this as an option en masse. Streaming could account for hundreds of thousands of people.

165 Milo Minderbinder October 17, 2016 at 1:47 pm

When I was a child the late game would start at 4:00pm. (East Coast Time). Sometimes the 1:00 game would run over, but other times it would be finished before the second game started.

Now the 2nd game starts at 4:25. That’s 25 more minutes of commericals, not game.

166 adam October 17, 2016 at 5:46 pm

If It’s streaming, then the NFL has an easy fix- make a roku/apple tv app and sell subscriptions. They make it really hard and expensive to watch games that are out of market. They shouldn’t be surprised when a lot of people decide its not worth the hassle and expense when there’s plenty of other stuff on netflix, etc.

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