The NFL has opted to keep a stiff upper lip and a stoic demeanor regarding the alarming early-season decline in TV ratings, specifically for prime-time games. The NFL Players Association is opting not to pretend that all is well.
“This is a huge issue for us obviously,” NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said on Friday’s PFT Live. “We spend a lot of time looking at trends. I was thrilled to see the game being streamed on Twitter. We’re interested about where media is going. Viewership is an important issue, stadium attendance is a very important issue to us. So as we look forward knowing that there are a couple of television contracts that are going to come up. I think it is smart for us to look at the impact of whether fans are watching on TV or not.”
A decline in TV viewership won’t be a factor until after the current TV contracts expire, assuming there isn’t a renegotiation before the existing deals expire after the 2022 season.
“I’m sure there after people at the networks who are trying to figure out whether or not there’s going to be labor peace in 2021 and how that affects the TV contracts that they’re entering into,” Smith said.
That definitely will be a factor, especially if the NFL tries to extend the TV deals before the current labor deal expires. Beyond labor peace, however, the balance between revenue from traditional broadcast networks, cable outlets, and Internet companies will be a challenge for the NFL to balance as it tries to maximize revenue, to maintain a large audience for prime-time games, and to avoid potential scrutiny of the federal government, which could be inclined to strip the league of its broadcast antitrust exemption if a sufficient number of games aren’t easily available to the millions of Americans who still rely on rabbit ears to capture the TV signals floating in the ether.