Fewer people watched NFL games in 2018, but those who watched watched more

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The NFL’s TV viewership increased by an average of 5 percent per game this season. But it would be inaccurate to say that more people watched the NFL in 2018 than in 2017.

In fact, fewer people watched football in 2018. But ratings increased because those who did watch the NFL watched more of it.

Michael Mulvihill, executive V.P. for research at FOX Sports, points out that the NFL’s “reach” was actually down this season: In 2018 there were 184.2 million people who watched an NFL game at some points, while in 2017 there were 189.2 million people who watched an NFL game.

But the overall viewership was up because the average fan who watched any football at all watched one more game (17.1 games in 2018 compared to 16.2 games in 2017), and the average viewer of a game stayed tuned in for about three minutes longer this season than last season.

It seems likely that the decline in reach is driven by cord cutters: More and more people watch TV only through Netflix, Hulu and other outlets that don’t have NFL games, and those people don’t see any football at all. In the past, when almost everyone had a TV that could get the broadcast channels, some people who weren’t NFL fans would end up watching a game just because they were bored and flipping through the channels on a lazy Sunday. Now those same people check what’s available on Netflix and never come across an NFL game.

Despite that issue — which is an issue that affects all of television, not just the NFL — the league was able to increase its ratings because fans were more engaged with the product. Subjectively, the quality of play seemed to be up this year, and that’s reflected in the fact that fans were watching more games, and more likely to watch a game until the end instead of turning off a boring game at halftime.

The issue with fewer people watching is a real one, and one the NFL wants to get its arms around. One of the reasons the league made a deal with Amazon to simulcast the Thursday night games that also air on FOX and NFL Network is that it wants to experiment with attracting those fans who don’t have a cable TV subscription. The league still has a lot of work to do on that front.

But as long as the football is good, the fans will watch. This year the football was good, and so were the ratings.

40 responses to “Fewer people watched NFL games in 2018, but those who watched watched more

  1. Taking NFL Sunday Ticket away from Direct TV and making it a standalone purchase would certainly increase traceable traffic……..as opposed to ya know, the Dark Arts of Viewing.

  2. Well, this is indeed interesting news. Yesterday the anthem faithful were falling all over themselves to say that the higher ratings this year resulted from less kneeling/kneeling not being shown. They claimed that their goofy boycotts had worked.

    Today we receive information that the faithful could interprete as some people actually not coming back to watch the NFL. These low information people will never believe that cord-cutting leads to less total viewers, they don’t even know what Hulu and Netflix are. They’re still using the antenna on top of their single-wide trailers. It will be interesting to see how the anthem faithful explain this newest data.

  3. What about all the cord cutters that has rooftop antennas. I watch televised games in my area except on ESPN, with Antenna.

  4. You don’t need a cable subscription to watch NFL games. You can watch with a HD digital antenna for free or any streaming service. YouTube TV, Sling tv,etc. all offer local channels with their service.

  5. I’ve been slowly withdrawing from the NFL over the years. Rules are too slanted towards the offense for my liking and everything is political. Guess you can call me a casual fan these days.

  6. …so, in this convoluted world of ours, are the advertisers more happy that fewer people watched their ads, or that fewer people watched them more often…just asking…

  7. The loss of viewers is the fault of the NFL when making a deal with DISH, that each subscriber can choose the games he/she wishes to see. Today’s society is mobile; how many Steeler fans live outside of the Pittsburgh viewing area? And that’s true of every team. I have two favorite teams and neither are shown in my area, so on Sundays I just don’t watch the games on the AFC and NFC channels…they are usually teams in which I have no interest.
    I now choose the NFL network because I can see when my favorite teams score TDs. Those of us who do have cable TV service should have the opportunity to choose which games we wish to watch. A steady diet of Tampa Bay and Jacksonville and the Miami Dolphins is not a way to spend a Sunday afternoon when your heart belongs to teams on the opposite sides of the country.

  8. I’d watch 2 more games a week if they weren’t on late night Thursday and Monday.

  9. Cord cutting has always been primarily the reason. Cable is not only expensive but the prices are kind of a scam on the way the billing is implemented, the companies (I won’t say any names cause a certain one owns this platform) are the worst examples of the issues with capitalism. Then there’s the issue that wages haven’t gone up since the 1980s in relation to inflation, people are working more, too many commercials, etc.

    With all that being said though. Those of us that looked at the reported stats been said that the grandstanders who said they’d stop watching because of kneeling, that they wouldn’t have any effect (and some were lying) – and they completely didn’t. That group that was so upset on twitter, and in the comments, and at the rallies, were utterly irrelevant in the grand scheme of it all.

  10. This past quarter saw one of the largest seasonal drops ever as more than one million consumers canceled their cable TV or satellite subscriptions.This trend will continue and unless the NFL can find a way to access this viewership, their ratings numbers will continue to decline.Add to that , ESPN’s takeover of College Football, and huge numbers of football fans are left without any viable football options.Cord cutters are not going to pay high dollars to watch garbaged bundled programing and advertisements.The NFL better see the forest through the trees!

  11. i used to watch any game that was on. then MNF moved to espn. then way too often the same non local teams ended up on the late games on Sunday afternoon or night. this year, I might have watched 6 partial games. i no longer really consider myself a football fan.

  12. I’m 51 and have been watching football since I was 5 but the NFL is losing its luster with me, I’ve had DirecTV since ‘03 but this is my last season, contract runs out soon and I’m done, too expensive, other bills are higher priority plus college football is better to me, I can watch 13 hours of college football on a Saturday but as far as the NFL, I’d its not my team, I lose interest

  13. I watched more this year. I don’t care what everyone else does I don’t care who watches or if the NFL viewership goes down or up. I don’t have any skin in that game. What I do have is a sense of what I value. My time.. When I tune in and have an enjoyble experience I will watch more. When I tune in and don’t like the product I turn it off or change the channel. When I was watching last year I saw pissed to see the protest. I watched my team and walked away from the other games. This year I got to watch football again. No idiot protests no statements before each game about police. I watched and was happy again. They may have been protesting but I sure didn’t see it. The networks were smart enough to not cover it.

  14. Watched and followed the NFL for 43 years until the beginning of 2017 when right after dealing with Hurricane Irma in Florida the disrespect to the Flag with the anthem protests for a second year in a row was just too much to put up with. Was a season ticket holder that left his seats remain empty in 2017. This is now a second season of not listening and/or watching an iota of the NFL, with College football filling the void well enough. No matter what statistics are put out for 2018, the NFL still took a hit with loads of diehard fans that have still not come around to watching them again and that have the ability to do so with cable, etc and means.

  15. NFL needs to hire an actual marketing crew. They need more Sunday afternoon games so that the ticket is not a waste. Hiding games on thursday night is just stupid. The Monday night and Thursday night announcing crews are worthless. And the games chosen for Monday night primetime should be determined by the teams and not the markets.

  16. The NFL would much rather have it the opposite. Those fans that are watching more already have purchased the merchandise and everything else that goes with it. Nothing more to be gained from them.

  17. 4 years ago I would already have ribs on the Weber Smokey mountain, a brisket on the other one and would be setting up the bar downstairs for a great day of football. Now ? I’m meeting some fellow officials in Boston’s North End to hang out and watch some football if we end up sitting at a bar. Monday night is a different story !

  18. I’ve gone from die hard (except wearing another man’s jersey) to casual fan. Reasons include rule changes, too much politics, players hating our country and as a Bengals fan Mike Brown has caused me to lose interest.

  19. The NFL is not going away. It is still number one of all Pro sports. Advertising , huge TV deals including the eventual upgrades to streaming service will continue to bring the owners profit. Capitalism is king in the U.S. The NfL is an example of great business success of our culture. It’s not only an extremely entertaining product. It’s as american as it gets to watch football.

  20. I watched more this season because of the game’s being on the Yahoo Sports app. As an out of market fan, this was a fantastic way to watch the Bears. I’d have the local channels on TV and the Bears on my phone some weeks. Little slice of heaven for a fanatic like me. Unfortunately, it needs chrome cast as an option, but still better than not watching at all.

  21. The DirecTV exclusivity is what hurts the NFL’s viewership. How many more years is that contract preventing those of us that don’t have DirecTV from being able to purchase games at home? I buy the baseball package every year. Football package? I’ve never been given the option through my services. Boo NFL! Boo!

  22. Who cares? If you want to watch the NFL, watch. If you don’t, don’t and let everybody be happy w/ watching or not watching.

  23. To further its reach, the NFL needs to get with the 21st century and give US fans meaningful streaming options outside of the DirecTV monopoly. They already allow live streaming outside the US (you pay an annual fee directly to the NFL and can then stream all games). It’s ridiculous that people in the US don’t have the same option.

  24. Does anyone really trust these numbers? All they have to do is listen to the fans. They don’t like the softer game, too many flags, too many interruptions, etc. I personally can’t stand the constant celebrations after almost every play. Attending an NFL game is no longer affordable for the average person. I am still likely to spend a few minutes checking the NFL news but far less likely to spend 3 hours watching a watered down game.

  25. Want to increase viewership? Stop making people buy stuff they don’t want to get the stuff they do want. I don’t want DirecTV and I also don’t want to have to pay for every team’s games when I just want to watch one team. Let me purchase one team’s games on the viewing device of my choice. Simple. I’ll buy it. Will pay almost as much as I pay now for a ton of garbage that I couldn’t care less about.

  26. A lot of the problem is the providers, once your initial suscription runs out they try and jack the price through the roof, ours just jumped from about $125/month to well over $200 and my wife spent over an hour on the phone with them fighting to get the old rate back, finally she told them “OK just cancel it and we’ll go to one of your competitors”. Well that did it they gave us the introductory rate for 3 more years. Its a shame these providers want to screw their best customers and give the good deals to only the new customers, it’s about the only business that conducts themselves in that way, other businesses value their existing customers and make it so staying with them benefits the customer. But not the cable/satellite providers, they try and screw their existing customers and people aren’t putting up with it like they used to, so it’s no wonder there are so many cord cutters, do you think those providers will ever figure it out?

    OH aother HUGE reason people are not watching, COMMERCIALS! I bet they’ve increased the commercial time 25-30% just over last year and now they’re trying this side-by-side BS where they continue to show the game and run a commercial at the same time on side-by-side screens, WHAT BULL!!! I’ve gotten to the point where I won’t watch a game live, I record it and watch it about two hours after is starts that way I can fast-forward through all of the commercials and replays and I can watch a game in about an hour.

    And maybe some people like this but I’m not one of them, we DON’T need to see a dozen replays of every single play, I don’t like the idea of every play being analyzed under a microscope @ 20,000 frames per second, that’s not the way the game was meant to be! And it’s one of the main reasons it takes nearly 4hrs to play a 60min game. They say they keep trying to shorten the game but as long as they stop the game to have commericials and for a dozen replays/reviews the game will never get to under 3hrs, EVER!

    Then there’s the fact that the quality of play and the officiating is getting worse! I mean every expert and analyst in the world is calling for players like Josh Allen(56% comp/16TD/6INT) to be a 1st round draft pick, WHY? Are those really 1st round stats? The real reason those players end up going in the 1st round = one thing, DESPERATION! NFL teams are getting desperate to find even an average QB as they’re getting very scarce, so teams that are in-need of a QB have to take them really early or miss out to some other desperate team. So I guess all it takes for a QB to be a 1st rounder in these days of desperation is to be the “proto-typical size” and be able to throw the ball 50+yds. Only it’s too bad that’s NOT TRUE here in the real world or the NFL would be overflowing with great QBs, but guess what? IT’S NOT!

    Finally, the commentators WOW THEY’RE ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE NOW DAYS! I find myself sometimes wanting Howard Cosell back, OH BROTHER! That should give you a pretty good idea of how bad I think they are!

  27. If the NFL were smart (it’s not) it would drop the declining Dinosaur that is Direct TV for a full deal with Netflix or Prime, or even better, start their own app (they don’t have the infrastructure for this so it won’t happen).

  28. The funny thing is how people read something and just believe it. I can tell you that the ratings are still down and NO less people are NOT watching more. In fact, myself included, I have watched less. I mean seriously what did you expect the NFL to report?? They can’t leave people with the impression that they are losing viewers, which they are. AND it has NOTHING to do with kneeling it has EVERYTHING to do with how they treat the fans. They expect huge dollars and just expect people to accept the garbage they shovel out. Lets just take a team like the Cowboys for instance…..they have a puppet HC, they aren’t going to win more than a WC game at best and the owner will not hire a competent person at the HC position. So people like me are fed up with it……

  29. rutchaser says:
    January 5, 2019 at 10:40 am
    I’ve gone from die hard (except wearing another man’s jersey) to casual fan. Reasons include rule changes, too much politics, players hating our country and as a Bengals fan Mike Brown has caused me to lose interest.

    Jerry Jones has done the same to people who have been Cowboys fans for years….he or any other owner clearly just don’t care about the fans.

  30. tryitout344 says:
    January 5, 2019 at 7:52 am
    I’ve been slowly withdrawing from the NFL over the years. Rules are too slanted towards the offense for my liking and everything is political. Guess you can call me a casual fan these days.

    Also a HUGE problem is that fans that live in the areas where it snows do NOT want to sit inside in Sept/Oct when it’s still outside and watch football. It just isn’t going to happen. Winter is coming and there are things to do……

    PLUS they have flooded the market with too many games… I don’t have time to sit all day Sunday, then Sunday Night, then Monday and Thursday. That’s 15 hours of watching football, I don’t have time or desire to do that. Been a fan for 40 years…..slowly I’m getting away from it…it’s outdated and they continue changing the game…..why? Plus yes their DirectV contract is also outdated. In this day and age you should be able to pick the team you want to see and pay for the season……if the NFL were smarter, which they’re not, they’d come into the 21st century. And start catering to the fans a LOT better.

  31. YouTube TV has all the broadcast networks plus ESPN. All the important news channels are also included, so you never miss your favorite commentary on which Whitehouse toady is heading to prison next. Football and slammer drama. Does it get any better than that for $40 a month?

  32. It takes 4 hours to watch a game and I don’t know what the rules are anymore. It’s stressful, dumb, and I don’t feel like watching a million commercials. The people who still watch it are only watching because of hype. That’ll die down and in a few decades football will be back to being America’s third or fourth favorite sport (which is probably a fairer placement for it).

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