Little is clear about the 2016 NFL season, including the reason(s) for the dramatic drop in TV viewership.
Asked by Gary Myers on WFAN’s Chalk Talk if the league has reached any conclusions regarding the reduction in ratings, Commissioner Roger Goodell said, “No, and I don’t think anybody can do that.”
Goodell added, after Myers rattled off various possible explanations for the decline (election year, quality of games, fans fed up with off-field misconduct, too many penalties, and the national anthem protests), “We don’t dismiss any theory, if you want to call it that.”
That’s a stake contrast from nine days ago, when Goodell insisted that the anthem protests are not impacting ratings.
The Commissioner then added another potential explanation for the phenomenon: “The media landscape is going through some very fundamental changes.”
Goodell generally attributed the drop to a “confluence of events,” and he reiterated that “we don’t dismiss any of them.”
He also focused on the positive; at a time when prime-time ratings have dropped by 36 percent over the last several years, the NFL’s ratings are up by 27 percent.
“It’s not always a straight line,” Goodell said. “You know there are bumps. . . . What we want to do is figure out how to engage our fans in the platforms they want to engage on and how do we engage them longer.”
Before doing that, it makes sense to come up with a reliable assessment of the factors. From polling to focus groups to surveys to any of the other ways of obtaining feedback as to why viewing habits have dramatically changed, the NFL has the resources and the incentives to get the answers.
The biggest problem for the league is that, if the anthem protests are a factor, there’s nothing the NFL can do about it — and any acknowledgement of the connection would underscore the power the players have. Which possibly would invite them to find more ways to wield their power.