The NFL’s television ratings are no longer declining. In fact, they’re trending slightly upward.
Through four weeks of the season, overall ratings for all NFL games are up 1 percent in total viewers and up 2 percent in household rating compared to last season, according to Anthony Crupi of Advertising Age.
That’s a very slight increase, but it’s certainly not a decrease, which is what the NFL saw in its television ratings in 2016 and 2017. So while the league’s TV ratings are not back to 2015 levels, the talk that they’re in the midst of a steady decline appears to be wrong.
Over the last two years there’s been much hand wringing about the NFL’s declining television ratings, and much debate about the reason for the decline. Were conservatives turning off the NFL because players kneel during the national anthem? Were liberals turning off the NFL because the league wasn’t supportive enough of players’ causes? Were fans turned off by concussions? Did the Ray Rice case permanently tarnish the view of pro football players in America?
This year’s improving ratings may indicate that the real issue is the quality of football: This year has seen star quarterbacks playing at an all-time high level, after last year saw passing numbers decline around the league. It may be that the quarterback most responsible for the league’s declining TV ratings was not Colin Kaepernick, but Peyton Manning: When Manning retired, the NFL lost a marketable star quarterback whose teams usually played in big, exciting games, and without Manning the league felt less fun to watch for many fans. Now that younger quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Jared Goff are emerging, and older stars like Tom Brady and Drew Brees are still going strong, the action on the field is better, and so are the ratings.