Football fans, relax. It’s unlikely that the NFL is going to go bankrupt in 2017, but it’s also true that 2016 was not a great year for the league. It’s been commonly thought that there was no ceiling for NFL viewership, but that turned out to be a completely erroneous belief.

It started last year when television audiences began turning away in droves.


How Much Is Droves, Exactly?

The NFL took an 8% hit in 2016 when compared to the previous season, according to the Christian Science Monitor. That’s a dramatic decline and there were a number of factors that might have contributed to that.


A presidential election. We’re not sure how many football fans really decided they’d rather watch Clinton and Trump go toe-to-toe, but many pundits seem convinced that this was a major turning point for some viewers.

Colin Kaepernick. Sports Illustrated ran a poll which suggested that a third of NFL viewers were thinking about boycotting watching the NFL due to Colin’s protest against racism. Again, it’s hard to be convinced that six guys in peaceful action could drive away a huge section of the audience.

Too Many Games. This feels slightly more reasoned. Sunday, Monday, and Thursday? It’s just too much for most people to take in. Who is really going to give up half their free time in a busy working week to sit in front of a box only watching football?

Wikimedia Commons

It’s Getting Boring. Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks explains: “The league isn’t fun anymore. Every other league, you see the players have a good time. It’s a game. This isn’t politics. This isn’t justice. This is entertainment. And they’re no longer allowing the players to entertain. They’re no longer allowing the players to show any kind of personality, any kind of uniqueness, any individuality. Because they want to control the product. They want to control the messaging.”

Nielsen Can’t Measure Ratings Properly. Nielsen measurements can’t be adjusted for people who watch games on their smartphones. This feels like a compelling reason to explain the loss of large numbers of viewers. People are just changing platforms.

An Excess Of Advertising. This also feels like it may have a measure of truth within it. It’s been shown people hate commercial breaks, particularly when they’re really involved in the program. As the networks and the NFL inflict more ads on people, it’s likely they’re going to switch off in greater numbers.

What Can Be Done About This?

If politics caused last year’s slump, then this year will be back to normal. If not, then it might be time for the NFL to start examining its own reputation with the fans and for them to invest in helping Nielsen measure audiences on non-traditional platforms.

If 2017 continues 2016’s trend, then the NFL may one day start losing real money from its sponsors and advertisers. That’ll surely hurt.