The statement from the NFL regarding the audience that watched the first Thursday Night Football game of the season creates the impression the glass is more than half full. The reality is that, however full the glass may be, it has sprung a leak.
The Jets-Bills game televised nationally by CBS and NFL Network generated a rating of 9.5 with a share of 18. The NFL trumpets those numbers as an increase of more than 20 percent over the average rating of 7.9 for each of last year’s Thursday Night Football games, several of which were televised by NFL Network only.
But before cracking open the champagne, consider this nugget buried in the release: Last year’s season-opening Thursday Night Football contest between the Broncos and Chiefs generated a 12.9 rating and a 24 share. Apples to apples, that’s a decline of more than 25 percent.
The addition of Twitter doesn’t move the needle all that much, with an added average audience of 243,000. As noted by Chris LaPlaca of ESPN, Monday night’s Steelers-Washington game had an average of 307,000 streams and the Rams-49ers game had 309,000 — even though ESPN (unlike Twitter) wasn’t streaming its games on phones.
In Week One, the ratings for Monday night’s games declined in comparison to 2015, as did the ratings for the opening night of the season and the first Sunday night game of the year.
It’s still too early to make broad conclusions or to proclaim the existence of trends. But the NFL surely must be troubled by the size of the TV audience relative to 2015, especially with Thursday night’s game involving one of the two New York teams. If the drop continues, the NFL will need to throw some of its billions at the problem before the billions begin to evaporate.