NFL spread itself thin with more broadcast windows than ever

AP

A record 203 million Americans watched NFL games last season, yet average ratings were down. If those two data points seem contradictory, that’s because most people don’t fully understand how TV ratings are calculated.

That total of 203 million people represents everyone who ever watched an NFL game at all, while the average ratings are about the average number of people watching a game at any given moment. That the former increased while the latter decreased suggests not that the NFL has a shrinking fan base but that the NFL has a problem with more and more fans deciding that they don’t need to watch every game as consistently as they used to.

This data comes from FOX Sports’ Mike Mulvihill, who writes at Sports Business Journal that the NFL’s biggest problem in 2016 was that more viewers were turning away from football to watch election news: The league’s ratings were down 13 percent from 2015 before Election Day but were virtually identical to 2015 after Election Day. But the second-biggest problem, and the one the NFL has some control over, is that the league has too many broadcast windows.

For the 2016 season, that meant a total of 110 NFL television windows when you add up the three every Sunday, plus Monday nights and Thursday nights, Thanksgiving and Christmas, Sunday morning games from London and so on. That’s more than the league has ever had before, and the ratings data suggest that some fans felt that football was spread so thin that they simply couldn’t keep up with it all, and they were more choosy about which games to watch.

The NFL may realize that’s a problem, and there are already indications that the league is looking at scaling back, first by moving the London games back to Sunday afternoon, and perhaps by scaling back on some other broadcast windows as well.

If the NFL scales back the schedule slightly to get back to its bread and butter of Sunday afternoons and nights, and if nothing in the news in 2017 captures America’s attention the way the election did in 2016, average ratings should improve in the season ahead. If ratings decline again, however, that’s a sign that the NFL has a real problem on its hands.

77 responses to “NFL spread itself thin with more broadcast windows than ever

  1. Sunday 1pm. Sunday 4pm. Sunday 8pm. Monday 8pm. That’s it.

    Get game times back down to 3 hours instead of the 3.5 they now take. Spread out the 1pm games so we don’t have 11 1pm games and 2 4pm games.

    This isn’t difficult.

  2. I just want to watch packers games. I used to care about the others but for some reason watching games like Saints-Falcons doesn’t excite me. I like doing valuable things with my time…

  3. I particularly liked how the league suspended the best player in NFL history and its most popular one by far for no reason, while giving extensive media coverage to an awful QB who hates America. Goodell is the Elmer Fudd of football.

  4. The teams don’t even take each game as a must win like they did in the past. Guys used to play through injuries and now they sit out games. Fans are getting smart like the teams knowing that if you just make the playoffs is what matters then get hot.

  5. I kind of liked the Sunday morning ones. Thats chill time for me so it was nice getting a game. But during the work week its harder to stay up for a game that runs into late evening when I have to get up early the next morning. Sunday, Monday, and Thursday night games mean I am hitting 3 of my 5 early mornings of a given week. So of course I skip at least one sometimes more. Which I skip depends on the matchups. Thursday tends to have the weaker ones (plus teams tend not to play as well) so thats usually one of the skips but not always.

  6. It’s like the NFL wants us to dedicate everyday to watch them take a seat and disrespect the anthem, good luck with that.

  7. A record 203 million Americans watched NFL games last season. Wow! No wonder Roger Goodell makes $35 million a year.

  8. Football used to be a great sport, a must watch event. Since Herr Goodell has ruined the product, now no one that doesn’t gamble or play fantasy football could care less.

  9. NFL HQ should never been seen nor heard. It really is that simple. Shut up. Go away. Let us fans go back to forgetting you exist.

    No 5 million dollar study needed. Just simple “free” common sense. You make all that money and then you try to tell us what to think and feel. We find it condescending. That makes us want to ignore you.

    Get lost 2017.
    Make it happen.

  10. What they should look at is quality of the games. Poor tackling, mind blowing penalties, constant commercial interruptions and much more. Salary cap created a bunch of below average teams that nickle and dime fans at every turn. Hence, most games are unwatchable.

  11. Over saturation, too many commercials, games too long, protesters and some of the broadcasters are terrible.

    I know I watched a lot less this past year.

  12. There are a plethora of reasons for the ratings decline but number one with a bullet is still the obvious one. Give fans a compelling game and they will watch. When the league puts a Jax/TN game on a Thursday night they get what they deserve.

  13. All night games are too late. Move those kickoffs an hour earlier. There is always an hour between the end of the late Sunday afternoon game and Sunday night kickoff. Move all night game kickoffs back an hour.

  14. I would much rather be up early on Sunday watching a game than being forced to stay up well past midnight on a Monday or Thursday night. They milk the national broadcasts to such a ridiculous degree for ad time that it becomes nearly unwatchable for people that have to work the next day.

  15. tylawspick6 says:
    Feb 20, 2017 9:02 AM
    Over-saturation.

    Arrest, try and convict Goodell.

    ———————-

    Is oversaturation a state or federal crime?

  16. If the NFL wasn’t so short sighted and greedy, they’d set up a developmental league to improve quarterback play and other skill positions. Baseball, hockey and basketball all have figured out how to do it but the NFL owners care too much about making money over improving their product. It’s funny how other successful corporations view research and development divisions as essential to their overall success but the group of greedy billionaires want everything their NFL does to make a tidy profit. Does Toyota look at their R&D division as a direct money maker? Of course not. Improve your product and you will attract more customers. It’s not that hard, unless you’re blinded by short sighted greed.

  17. Last year I stopped watching all Thursdsy night games. It is the only conclusion fans have to tell the NFL to stop the Thursday night games.

    I’m in my 40s, but when did NFL decisions switch from being about what’s for football and what’s good for the $$$?

  18. You said it yourself: after the election, the ratings were virtually identical to 2015.

    It was the most freakshow election of all time, so of course more people tuned in.

    The fact that ratings leveled off afterwards means there is no real problem.

  19. How about doing something to improve the actual quality of officiating.
    Note: Talking about how good the current officials are doesn’t count.
    Note 2: Calling obviously blown judgement calls “Technically correct” makes Dean Blandino look like an ass.

  20. Whilst I accept the too-thin notion, I was surprised by moving the London times. The timing worked well for UK fans and the morning slot made enough sense for us that plenty of us could half-forgive just a few games going there. Take that time slot away and London games are a much harder sell to US fans and owners.

  21. There is absolutely no reason anymore for anyone to own the Sunday ticket.

    I used to own it for fantasy football to catch players on bad teams but now i just watch thursday night football to catch the bad teams.

  22. The over saturation is only a problem to the extent that it leads to Cleveland – Jacksonville type of match ups. If that game is on Thursday night, I’ll watch just about anything else (Shark Tank reruns, NHL, or anything else). People like a good product.

  23. When I was a kid, it seemed like the networks showed 2 games every Sunday. Now, 1 network shows a game while the other shows 2 and it seems to alternate.

    I am good with what juice08 said above. This is an easy concept to grasp but with their history of believing data that does not exist (fans want London games and a team internationally, etc.) i doubt they will act prudently.

    For the last few years many of us have been saying the NFL has over-saturated the market, diminished the quality of the product and allowed, at a minimum, the perception that some game circumstances and outcomes are manipulated by officials for ratings/money. Glad to see PFT is starting to see the light

  24. I used to watch every possible game/slot, 5-6 /weekend depending on whether it was late in the season and Saturday games were going on.

    The last couple seasons I have watched only the Pats games and boycotted every other window/game. The corruption of Goodell, his cronies and the favored few of the Giants, Jets, Steelers, Colts, Ravens and Donkeys has disgusted me and are fast driving me away from the game.

    And guess what? I have zero problems finding other ways to entertain myself and things to do.

  25. I watch the local team, Thanksgiving day, and the playoffs. I used to watch more, but for me, fantasy football diminished desire to worry about outcomes of games and just look at specific players. After quitting fantasy football, I am content with the local games and playoff games.

  26. Because the league and the networks backing the actions of a moron with an IQ of 80 and his terrorist lies had nothing to do with it.

    We were on the edge, granted, but the NFL/media pushed it over this season. Go ahead and try and push us some more. You are designing your own pay cuts over the next 10 years.

  27. i love football and i love my team, roger goodell has ruined the nfl on so many levels. i no longer find myself interested in any other game than my team.

    i will return to watching other games when goodell is fired.

  28. I really don’t see the problem. If you’re a fan of a particular team, and you don’t live in the viewing area, having more games on TV increases the odds that you will see your team play.

    The real problem they have is commercials. Too many commercials.

  29. maciejke says:
    Feb 20, 2017 9:34 AM
    Last year I stopped watching all Thursdsy night games. It is the only conclusion fans have to tell the NFL to stop the Thursday night games.

    I’m in my 40s, but when did NFL decisions switch from being about what’s for football and what’s good for the $$$?
    —————————————————————-

    As soon as you had to be a billionaire to own a team, and those billionaires hired Fraudger Goodell. It used to be run by men that cared about football more than cash.

  30. The number the NFL should really care about isn’t “number of people who watched at least one game”. Rather it’s “total number of people-hours of the TV audience”. If each person in the audience watches half as much TV football, and then 5 million new people are brought in to watch the Super Bowl, that’s a huge net loss of audience to the NFL.

    “Number of unique viewers” is a far less interesting statistic than the base TV ratings.

  31. skoobyfl says:
    Feb 20, 2017 9:08 AM
    It’s like the NFL wants us to dedicate everyday to watch them take a seat and disrespect the anthem

    ——————————————————————–

    Along with the people in the stands who eat, talk, laugh, scream, and wear their hats during the anthem.

  32. Listening to new england fans the last handful of seasons is actually much worse than listening to the 49er fans of the eighties and early nineties. Unfortunately I was cursed by living in those areas and not a fan of either. No doubt I pay way less attention to football then I used to.

  33. I watched a lot the NFL this season – 3-4 games per weekend. I didn’t see any protesters.

    Well, except the anti-Goodell protesters.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible this is a regional thing, depending on which team was local and/or favorite. But it feels like the entire “fans aren’t watching because of protesters” meme is overblown.

    The problem is the lack of exciting football. That and the lack of star power. Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady was suspended, Drew Brees plays for a terrible team. Who else is there? Cam Newton’s Panthers had a disappointing regression after their Super Bowl run. Who else has must-see appeal? Rodgers and that’s about it. Oh and people either love or hate the Cowboys so much they are must-see.

    With Brady in the Super Bowl that got great ratings. Probably would have been even better had either Dallas or Green Bay made it. (Sorry, Atlanta.) It really comes down to the product.

  34. The same way that baseball umpires go blind when calling balls and strikes, holding and pass interference calls in football make the game harder to watch. It’s inconsistent, changes from year to year, and called poorly by the refs. Figure something out!

  35. To juice08. I agree with reducing game times but the last time they tried that they didn’t reduce commercials; instead they restarted the clock even when someone ran out of bounds. How about reducing the commercials instead?

  36. selldannysell says:
    Feb 20, 2017 10:19 AM
    skoobyfl says:
    Feb 20, 2017 9:08 AM
    It’s like the NFL wants us to dedicate everyday to watch them take a seat and disrespect the anthem

    ——————————————————————–

    Along with the people in the stands who eat, talk, laugh, scream, and wear their hats during the anthem.

    _________________________________________

    Who are not employees at the time and role models to kids.

  37. I love NFL football and watch my team religiously aND sometimes Sunday night if it’s a good pairing. But there are just too many games to view personally. Spouse, family, career……….

    I remember back in the day, MNF was really special and must see tv. Now, not so much. And Thursday is a complete joke and terrible injustice to the players. As Cuban said, the need for greed will be the downfall of the NFL.

  38. Fire Goodell, move the Chargers back to San Diego, the Rams back to St. Louis, and the Raiders to Los Angeles, shorten commercial breaks, hire full time refs, and ban Jim Irsay from using Twitter.

  39. I used to pay for Sunday Ticket with three cable boxes for watching two games and RedZone simultaneously, but Goodell’s mismanagement and witchhunt approach to discipline has caused me to boycott all games other than those featuring the Patriots.

  40. I agree that Goodell’s time has come and gone, has mishandled many things badly, but he not the culprit here. The NFL’s insatiable quest for new revenue streams is a straight mandate from the owners. Roger is merely their tool in carrying out this edict.

    Seriously, how much is enough? But on the flip side, I guess these owners amassed their fortunes by never taking their foot off the gas pedal.

  41. No more Thursday games. The games, in general, are unwatchable due to sooooo many commercials that I’ve lost interest. The over the top flag waving has to go as well.

  42. You want to shorten the games? Get rid of the commercials that happen every 2 and a half minutes! Geeeezz! I signed up for Cable/Fios to watch the NFL and college games, NOT to watch commercials!

  43. Simple. Why watch crappy games (satellite TV with NY and LA stations…I cannot imagine watching Jets and Rams all the time!) when you can watch the games you want with NFL GamePass, at a third of the cost of NFL Sunday Ticket or Red Zone? PLus you can watch consensed versions as well and NO FREAKIN’ COMMERCIALS!

  44. All night games are too late. Move those kickoffs an hour earlier.

    The one year that the NFL tried that…. they gained 3% east coast viewers and lost 17% of the west coast viewers.

  45. Real, old school NFL fans of the league and Rozelle/Tagliabue, must stand as one and fend off the Millennial/Naive Fanboy Pro Goodell/Fantasty Football demographic, and not watch other games other than their own team.

    That will keep ratings down and hopefully be enough to bury Goodell and his cronies on Park Ave.

    It is appalling what they’re doing to what was once a great product.

  46. Go back to just Sunday/Monday games.
    Cut down on the number of commercials.

    I know wishful thinking, as the NFL does not care about its fans, only the almighty $.

  47. Mark Cuban was right… “Pigs get fed, hogs get slaughtered.” The NFL has some real problems and is in dire need of new management.

    ————

    Only watch your team’s games. It’s the only way to continue to force ratings down to get Goodell fired before the new CBA.

    The owners don’t care if the product sucks, which is why many teams are poorly built and are in a cap hell.

    They profit off the tv revenue, which is the deal Kraft got for the owners in 2011, which makes Spygate and Deflategate all that more despicable.

  48. We’re ignoring the role Fantasy Football has played in viewership. People are tuning in to get the FF stats. They’re rooting for players more, and teams less.

  49. Greed, if some is good, more is better. How else can they pay out what they pay out w/o additional ad revenue?

    Walmart is the largest retailer in the world. So when they open a Sam’s right across the street from WM AND a BJ’s wholesale, well Sam’s closed up in 3 years. No one is immune.

    Some folks never learn that lesson until it’s too late. There ‘s a tipping point, once passed, it’s not reversible.

  50. Thursday Night Football, too many bad penalties – 3rd down is the penalty down. And way too many effing commericals. All these factors have ruined the game. I was saddened to see Roger thought by cutting out one commercial a quarter would make it better. Rodger try to watch a game on TV, the amount of commercials are insane. And watch how poorly your refs call the game. Even with replay your refs get it wrong too often.

  51. it’s become like the nba where “every team makes a run” at the end of a game.

    believe it or not watching scripted sports is no fun;

    would rather see a blow out than referees playing bicky-biscuit after every play.

  52. Those of you posting about Goodell clearly don’t understand what his job is and how well he does it. If you think Goodell makes any actual decisions about anything, you’re sadly mistaken.

    He’s the owners’ minion; their “fall guy.” He does all the owners’ dirty work and he takes all the heat for it. And he does it SO well, you guys are calling for HIS head instead of the OWNERS’ heads. To put it bluntly, you’ve been chumped… by the owners… and they’re laughing all the way to the bank.

    I find Goodell as unlikable as the rest if you find him, but that’s on a personal level. Professionally, instead of condemning Goodell, we (you) should be condemning the OWNERS’ POLICIES carried out by Goodell.

    If you think about it for a minute, I’m pretty sure you’ll come to the same conclusion.

  53. The baggage that is now tied to get through an NFL season, is just ridiculous.

    Revis just assaulted two people at 2:30 in the morning, and it’s not even free agency yet.

  54. In my opinion, it has nothing to do with the number of broadcast windows. If anything that should bring ratings up. Fantasy football as well should have a symbiotic relationship with game viewership as it gets people interested in a wider range of games.

    The real problem is that the level of competition this past season was the worst that I have ever seen. Each week I would look at what might be a good game between legitimate contenders or at the very least some middling teams with upside, and there would only be a couple. Then I’d try to catch those games and more often than not they weren’t even close. Just look at the playoff scores. The majority of the games were over by halftime… And that’s playoffs.

    What is at the heart of the problem is teams are profitable no matter how horrendous the ownership is. Therefore we have several teams that are GUARANTEED to flat out suck every year as they blow their first rounder on Johnny Manziel or a trade for Trent Richardson over and over and over again. It’s like 1/3 of the teams’ owners either don’t really care about winning as long as they can grab some headlines and pump the merchandise sales OR they are such silver-spoon-fed morons that they couldn’t manage a lemonade stand if it weren’t for revenue sharing. There is no accountability at the very top of the leadership and so the cycle goes on, REDUCING parity to the point where it’s almost a joke.

  55. tylawspick6

    Only issue with your suggestion is that there are more younger viewers than older. And that ratio will only continue to skew against you.

  56. I got rid of the Sunday Ticket about five years ago because DirecTV was AWFUL. Now I have zero options to see my team because I am out-of-market. I would gladly pay to see my favorite team, but I can’t. And I sure as heck am not going to watch any NFL just because it’s on.

    And please, God…enough with the 85 yards pass interference calls. There are several teams that just chuck it up there and try to draw a penalty. And they do it because it works. Needs to follow the college format and be 15 yards instead of a spot foul.

  57. Get rid of Thursday night football and give us a Saturday night primetime game. I don’t care if college football is on saturday………NFL is king. The quality of the game will be better and people have no work the next day so they’ll stay up late for it. Also, get rid of the stupid London games that start at 9AM EST and 6AM PST. Who the hell is watching those games? I’d rather watch paint dry.

  58. It isn’t difficult. Sit with nflpa for two minutes, then announce that Thursday games will only feature teams that did not play the preceding weekend. It means redefining the “bye week”, and it is in the best interest of everyone.

  59. hardheadedrb says:
    Feb 20, 2017 10:26 AM
    College FB is guilty of it too. Tuesday night games, Thurs night games, and now the Big Ten going to a handful of Fri night games as an experiment.

    College football has done several nights of games because there are 130 or so teams fighting for television time and there is no way you could fit them into a single weekend. The reason for Tues, Thurs and Saturday games was to avoid conflict with high school and the nfl while being able to feature other schools besides the top 25

  60. Just make the games individually more fun to watch. Cut way back on commercials and interruptions, have more silent on-screen advertising as other sports do, have the games in predictable, reliable time & day slots. You’ll end up with a shorter, more enjoyable product and people will always know when & where it’s on.

    Personally, I like Thursday night games. People who whine about those are probably people who have all the deluxe TV packages and the free time to binge-watch all day on Sunday. Many people don’t. A free option on a different day is huge for people whose schedules don’t fit the Sunday approach. Forget the NFL Network – put it on a broadcast network and simulcast on Twitter.

    Sunday, Monday night, Thursday night. Always a free/no-cost option to watch. Games with fewer commercial that take 30-45 min less.

    Who can disagree with that?

  61. theghostofberniekosar says:
    Feb 20, 2017 1:03 PM

    And please, God…enough with the 85 yards pass interference calls. There are several teams that just chuck it up there and try to draw a penalty. And they do it because it works. Needs to follow the college format and be 15 yards instead of a spot foul.

    —————

    Do this, and you’ll never see a pass thrown more than 15 yards again.

  62. So, they kick the extra point then we are off to a commercial. Come back, kick off, touchback, and off to a commercial we come. Come back, ref blows calls, challenge out, and off to a commercial we go…

  63. “And please, God…enough with the 85 yards pass interference calls. There are several teams that just chuck it up there and try to draw a penalty. And they do it because it works. Needs to follow the college format and be 15 yards instead of a spot foul.”

    I’d like to see QBs who throw it to an eligible receiver who is more than than 3 yards away become an Intentional Grounding penalty every time unless they’re hit during the act of throwing the ball.. If QBs are going to get all that protection from the league and the way rules are currently constructed then force them to try to thread it into tighter windows. Heck, interceptions- especially pick sixes- are just as exciting as offensive touchdowns.

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