Conventional wisdom seems to favor the notion that the presidential election is to blame- with constant television coverage of the election drawing huge ratings away from #Football and multiple presidential debates scheduled against primetime NFL games. There’s also the theory that the games this year haven’t been all that great, especially in night games- leading fans to turn off the game during blowouts- and that the league is missing star power with Peyton Manning retired, Adrian Peterson injured, and Tom Brady out the first four games.
Some are blaming cord-cutting and changes in viewing habits, with games easier to stream than ever before and even available on Twitter for the first time. And yes, some are blaming Colin Kaepernick and other participants in anthem protests for turning fans off.
Lower, but still high
It should first be noted that first of all, the league is still very, very highly rated- higher than just about everything else on TV. And second of all, the significant ratings drops are for primetime games- Sunday and Monday night down 18 percent each and Thursday night 16 percent. The ratings declines for the regular Sunday games that constitute the majority of league play- 1 percent for Fox and 7 percent for CBS- are much lower.
But even so, a lot of the regular explanations don’t hold a lot of water.
The concussion and domestic violence issues are in the news, yes, but no more so now than in any of the last four or five years. Is it because of Colin Kaepernick and the anthem protests of other players? It’s possible that it has played a role, especially among older fans, but it’s worth noting that fans who vow to never again watch the NFL, or their team, have a tendency to not follow through on that pledge.
In defense of showboating
But then there’s the stupider explanations- those who blame the ratings drop on stuff that’s been their personal pet peeve for years. People like New York Post columnist/scold Phil Mushnick, a man who appears to live in abject fear that somewhere in America right now, a black football player might be dancing.
Mushnick wrote Thursday that the ratings drop can be blamed on “shameless showboating”- the tendency of athletes like Odell Beckham, Jr., Cam Newton, and Marshawn Lynch to dance, showboat, and complain about flags. Why, Mushnick asks, are such horrible acts only punished with quiet fines?
Leave aside that in most cases… there’s nothing wrong with showboating. When Antonio Brown twerks or Odell Beckham jumps on a kicking net, they’re bringing fun to a game that could use some. I don’t think they should be more than fined- they shouldn’t be fined or penalized at all.
The biggest hole in Mushnick’s argument is that “showboating” isn’t new- in fact, there’s probably less showboating in the NFL now then there was ten years ago, during the heyday of Terrell Owens, Randy Moss and Chad Ochocinco. So what it is about this year that would lead to a ratings drop now, when there wasn’t one back when T.O. took a Sharpie to a football?
Then there are those who argue that football has gotten “wussified,” a group whose ranks include Donald Trump. After a woman fainted at a rally earlier this month and got back up, Trump blurted out that ““See? We don’t go by these new, and very much softer, NFL rules. Concussion. Oh, oh! Got a little ding on the head. No, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season.”
And no, the ratings drop isn’t to blame on “fantasy football.” Fantasy football wasn’t just invented this year, and fantasy football players follow their teams by watching football.
The exact reason for the ratings drop remains unclear, and we likely won’t know the real answer for quite awhile. But it’s probably not because of that one little thing that annoys you.