Timeout with Talia: Football Ratings
Issue   |   Tue, 11/15/2016 - 23:08

Football. America’s most popular sport, right? Actually, that’s not the case lately. The National Football League’s ratings have been dropping steadily, around 12 percent yearly, and have seen a significant decrease especially in the 2016 season. How could this be? Some blame it on San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest; others say the presidential election coverage distracted them from football. Whatever the reason, what does it mean for the NFL going forward and for football in general?

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article about this dilemma, the stats for 2016 NFL games are as follows: national ratings for Monday night games are down about 24 percent, Sunday night games are off almost 19 percent and Thursday night numbers are down by around 18 percent. Week nine ratings were down about nine percent from last year. “People are still engaging with our game at the same level,” NFL Commissioner Robert Goodell said. “They may not be engaging as long. Maybe viewers bail because they’re watching ‘a bad game’ or because ‘counterprogramming looks good’.” For whatever reason, the fact is that not as many people are watching NFL games right now as in the past.

In a poll that surveyed around 900 adults from across the country, the respondents were asked to identify seven separate factors and answer yes or no in accordance to if they thought the factor was a reason for the NFL ratings drop. The largest factor, with 56 percent, was the national anthem protests. Led by Kaepernick during several pre-season games, many NFL players made a choice to kneel instead of stand during the national anthem. “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color … To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” Kaepernick said. 49ers head coach Chip Kelly told reporters that this was Kaepernick’s decision and that it was not his right to tell him to do something. The NFL soon after released a statement saying, “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.” This type of protest spread to other professional sports, colleges and high schools across the nation. While some clearly agreed with the message, others also disagreed, and it had a negative effect on how some football watchers view the NFL. Obviously, this view varies in different places, but it can be clearly seen by some as a lack of respect in the NFL community.

The other reasons listed in the poll for not watching as much football included coverage of the presidential election (50 percent), the league’s handling of domestic violence cases (47 percent), oversaturation of the market (44 percent), increased interest in post-season baseball (39 percent) and controversy regarding head injuries and player safety (33 percent). The presidential election could have had an especially large impact on ratings this season. Two major presidential debates went up against games. Also, this year, due to extended political coverage and a tight race, football might have taken more of a backseat for Americans than in other years. That statement is to be determined more in the future. Now that the election is over, will football ratings go up?

So, what is the NFL trying to do to fix their ratings? One idea might be creating a more entertaining schedule. For some reason, the NFL decided to broadcast half of the Chicago Bears’ first eight games in primetime. The Bears’ record is currently 2-6. For this reason, NFL fans seem to be shutting of their TV earlier or finding themselves channel surfing for a better sports game or show. Another main issue that the NFL is working on is game length. Currently, the average running time for a full game is three hours and eight minutes, which is up about six minutes from 2008. Regarding the length of games, Commissioner Goodell said, “We’ve been focused on this for several years. We obviously want to take as much of what we call dead time, non-action, out of the game so that we can make the game more exciting.” Things that might help the games move faster are shorter and more efficient reviews by referees and fewer commercials overall. League officials believe that more people would want to watch if the games were less time-consuming in general.

There is some good news. Although television ratings overall are down double digits this season, NFL ratings have risen around 27 percent in the last decade. People are still interested in football, and hopefully the quality of the games will improve in coming years. After all, it’s a fact that football brings people together. At least in my house, watching football is a family event with underlying tradition and rivalry, and I don’t think it will be going anywhere anytime soon.