The recent news story about NFL players kneeling when the national was played was somewhat controversial, but is this really the biggest problem the NFL is facing? NFL ratings have been dropping, and it’s not a new phenomenon, it’s a trend that started back in 2015. Can anything be done to stop the ratings freefall?
2015: the year NFL ratings stalled!
Viewing figures for the NFL had been quite stable until 2014. But 2015 saw NFL ratings hit a dead spot. The following year, 2016, ratings suffered a 9% drop. In the first six-week period of the season ratings dropped by a worrying 11%, but it only got worse, and by the end of nine weeks ratings were down a staggering 14%.
Surprisingly, the analytical data showed that although viewers watched 5% more games, they actually watched each game for a shorter period of time. It seems that fans were possibly less loyal, or more distracted. Generally, people have been watching less TV, including sports, in recent years, instead opting for live streaming online, although even then many viewers do not watch 100% of each game.
But it’s not just the NFL which has suffered. NASCAR ratings have also slumped, and the NBA suffered its lowest ratings ever on network TV last year, so it appears to be a sports industry-wide phenomenon.
So, what’s behind this drop in viewing ratings for sports? And the NFL in particular.
Failure to attract new, younger viewers
The typical viewer of live sports nowadays is older, much older, than in the past, with typical NFL viewers being 50-plus, and it’s a similar story for college football and basketball. There’s no influx of new viewers.
When it comes to the NFL, young people just aren’t sitting down to watch an entire game anymore. Their behavior is different; for example, binge watching a complete season of their favorite show in one day, or over a weekend.
They are expert multi-taskers, and prefer to get their information in short bite-sized chunks, such as from weekly blogs like the sports blog by . There’s also a greater focus on outcomes, the final result, rather than watching the process (the game). Older NFL viewers typically watch games play-by-play, but young people are more interested in viewing just the major events in a game and the final result.
An aging demographic
Looking at NFL ratings in terms of simple demographics, an aging U.S. population, and changes in viewing behavior in relation to old viewers and young viewers, it becomes evident what’s happening.
Adapting to changing demographic and customer trends
To survive and prosper, the NFL must make some changes in order to attract new, and younger, viewers. How would viewers respond to shorter games? Could the rules be changed to create greater excitement and scoring in games? What about better apps to generate more viewer engagement play-by-play? There are many options worth exploring, but whatever the NFL leadership decides, the NFL’s traditional way of doing things needs to be examined and challenged.
Could the NFL learn a thing or two from the boxing industry? The recent event pitting a world champion boxer against a mixed martial arts expert was somewhat out-of-the-box thinking by the promoters. It served to create greater interest in boxing, and attracted a whole new audience.
If the NFL doesn’t take note of the demographic and behavioral shifts currently taking place, and respond with something more appealing for younger viewers, it may well be left behind in the near future.