So much for having a captive audience.
Though the quality of the games may not always be great, the NFL has enjoyed years of solid ratings on the fourth Thursday in November, because football and Thanksgiving have become inextricably intertwined. And because there’s not really anything else on TV. (Also, having a game on the television gives family members who rarely get together an excuse for avoiding any and all awkward topics that otherwise may come up if they actually, you know, interact in a meaningful way.)
Last year, two of the Thanksgiving games gave the NFL an apples-to-apples win over the 2015 Thanksgiving games, creating the impression that the ratings woes from the election season had subsided. This year, the numbers went the other way, further fueling concerns that something is wrong — and that the NFL currently is incapable of fixing it on the fly.
Peter King of TheMMQB.com reviews the numbers generated by the Thanksgiving games from 2017, in comparison to the 2016 and 2015 contests.
For the early game in Detroit, Vikings-Lions generated a rating of 11.4. That’s down 12.3 percent from last year’s Vikings-Lions game, but only 7.3 percent down from Eagles-Lions in 2015.
The Cowboys game in the late-afternoon slot drew a 12.4 this year, with the Chargers serving as the opponent. That’s 20.5-percent lower than last year’s Washington-Dallas game and a 19.0-percent drop from Panthers-Cowboys two years ago.
The nightcap on NBC, featuring the two-win Giants and an uninspiring Washington team, churned out a 9.7 rating, down 10.2 percent from last year’s sluggish Steelers-Colts game. In comparison to the Bears-Packers game from 2015, however, the drop was a dramatic 33.6 percent.
The NFL can continue to spin the numbers by pointing to reduced TV consumption or whatever else the league chooses to blame for the reality that people aren’t watching football like they did only two years ago. Or the NFL can finally accept the fact that significant adjustments are needed in order to attract more viewers — and to hold more viewers.
One of those two strategies is viable.