The National Football League has seen significant declines in its television ratings this season, a trend that may inhibit the growth of the sport and future of the brand. According to the Washington Post, ratings through the fifth week of this NFL season faced a 10 percent decrease compared to those in the fifth week of last season.
One of the primary causes of the decline is the decline of the television medium as a whole. In a new age of media, where entertainment is moving towards the Internet with services like Netflix and YouTube, Americans can heavily utilize technology, and not rely on television, to watch what they want. In fact, the Pew Research Center reports that only 13% of Americans do not use the Internet. Society has moved away from television as a whole, and the NFL has suffered as a result. NFL games previously had been known as a time for friends and family to sit back and relax together, but that narrative is changing. In particular, young people are simply not as keen on watching television or football on Sunday. Their attention has redirected towards newer forms of entertainment.
Another cause may be the recent protests of NFL player Colin Kaepernick. After Kaepernick began the trend of kneeling for the national anthem as a protest against oppression of African-Americans, many viewers may have abandoned the league all-together. The social media hashtag “#BoycottNFL” has trended among those who disagree with Kaepernick’s stance. Some see his protest as a disregard for the military and the service they do, while others are angered because of the integration of professional sports and politics. The NFL may lose out on a key demographic of viewership if these protests continue to incite controversy. It is also notable to point out that some may have ditched the league because of the media’s over-saturation of Kaepernick’s personal decision. NFL viewers feel that his individual choice to protest does not call for overwhelming media buzz.
A third reason can be attributed to the current election and competing programs. The presidential debates have had record numbers in the millions, taking viewers away from NFL staples like Sunday Night Football. A polarizing campaign makes the NFL less of a priority in the eyes of many. As for competition with other programs in the primetime spot, the October 16 game between the Texans and Colts saw a 5 year low in Sunday Night Football viewership. When the already-limited audience is occupied elsewhere, the NFL struggles to maintain dominant ratings.
Time will only tell what the true root of this dramatic decline is for the NFL, ratings during the rest of this year could provide an outlook on the future of the league. And as years progress, interests could change, so the NFL may never return to its previous success as a brand. If the league hopes to continue remain relevant, and as the most watched professional sport, it will have to find ways to defeat the present signs of decline.