The days of Happy Days have long since ended. But even as live TV viewership continues to dramatically decline, the NFL continues to rule the landscape.
That’s the message that was sent, essentially, by the league office to teams that are fretting about reduced ratings.
John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reports that Brian Rolapp, who runs the league’s media operation, sent a memo to all teams on September 25 aimed at reducing their anxiety about an early-season dip in viewership.
“The 2020 presidential election and other national news events are driving substantial consumption of cable news, taking meaningful share of audience from all other programming,” Rolapp wrote, via Ourand. “Historically, NFL viewership has declined in each of the past six presidential elections.”
NFL ratings took a major hit during the 2016 election, with a 14-percent drop. After the election, the numbers were flat in comparison to the prior year.
This year, the COVID-19 situation also has become a factor. With the NBA and NHL pushing their seasons into September, the NFL faced more competition.
“The pandemic has caused several major sports to postpone their schedules, resulting in an unprecedented fall calendar,” Rolapp wrote, according to Ourand. “The result is a crowded content marketplace driving a bifurcation of sports viewers across multiple events.”
Again, Rolapp is right. Beyond the constant fracturing of an audience that once crowded around a TV that had three or four channels (PBS didn’t really count), people now watch whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want.
In the ’70s, American life revolved around the evening TV schedule; we had once chance (pending “re-runs” weeks if not months later) to see a show. If you showed up at 8:10 p.m. ET, you missed 10 minutes of Fonzi and Richie and Potsy and Ralph Malph and the various other out-of-the-blue collateral characters (including Laverne, Shirley, and Mork from Ork) that launched other successful spin-off series.
Today, the entire world operates on-demand. While that reduces the numbers for all television content (except cable news), it underscores the value of properties that can gather a large, live audience.
The NFL continues to be the one thing that does it better than anything else. Thus, Rolapp’s message to teams was simple: Don’t panic, even though through two weeks the ratings had dropped by six percent.
And to those who will respond to this item by chanting “go woke, go broke” or whatever other catchphrase is currently being used by those who want politics out of sports while simultaneously injecting their own politics into sports, that’s a tired and inaccurate take.
Some continue to huff and puff, but nobody is blowing the NFL’s house down. The best games continue to generate huge ratings, despite the national turmoil we continue to endure in multiple different ways. While politics generally will reduce viewership until the election is resolved (and that may not happen on November 3), political statements or gestures or leanings of players, coaches, owners, etc. aren’t hurting the NFL.