After two straight years of declines, the NFL’s television ratings are bouncing back.
Through five weeks of the season, NFL games are averaging 3 percent more viewers than last year. That’s not enough to offset the declines of the last two years, which were in the 8-10 percent range each year, but it is enough to end any talk that NFL ratings were in free fall.
And ratings seem to be getting stronger as the season wears on. In each of the last two weeks, four of the six broadcast windows were up compared to last year. In Week One and Week Two, most of the broadcast windows were down.
The NFL’s slight ratings increase is particularly impressive given the overall downward trend of TV ratings. Many of the longtime mainstays on TV — from The Big Bang Theory to Dancing With the Stars to The Walking Dead — have endured serious audience erosion.
“Everything in television is threatened in ratings because people have so many other choices, and that includes the NFL,” Robert Thompson, a professor of television and pop culture at Syracuse University, told NBC News. “But in the end, I think the NFL is actually surprisingly stable given all of those other changes.”
Even programming that is doing well still isn’t doing as well as the NFL. The Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees playoff series that wrapped up Tuesday night got strong ratings for TBS, but it was no match for the NFL: When Red Sox-Yankees went head-to-head with the NFL on Monday night, ESPN drew more than twice as many viewers for football as TBS drew for baseball.
Not all the news is great for the NFL. The audience for NFL games appears to be getting older, which isn’t a good sign for the long-term health of the league. But after two consecutive years of bad ratings news, the league is glad to have some good news for a change.