NFL TV ratings have seen a steady decline over the past few years. The drop in viewership and ratings have been going for a while now.
The average viewership per game in the 2020-21 NFL season was at 14.9 million viewers per game, a 10% drop from the ratings in 2019-20 which were at 16.5 million viewers.
However, Colin Cowherd believes that this isn’t something to worry about as the NFL is still very profitable and gets paid enormous sums by their broadcasters:
Always roll my eyes when I hear people discuss slight erosion in NFL TV ratings. Doesn’t matter, not even a little bit. It’s the “must have” of American TV products. Was just told what each network is paying the NFL — Gulp.
— Colin Cowherd (@ColinCowherd) February 28, 2021
There are several factors that can explain the drop in ratings this year. After all, this was the lowest viewership the NFL has seen since 2017 when around 15 million viewers per game clicked on.
Why Are NFL TV Ratings Down?
One possible explanation is the fact that this season took place during an election year. 2016 and 2017 were also both seasons in which NFL ratings dipped and both those years came during or after an election. Additionally, another similarity between 2016-17 and 2020 is the fact that all three of those seasons took place at historic junctures in the fight for social justice.
Colin Kaepernick made waves in the NFL world when he chose to kneel for the national anthem in 2016, and as a result both sides, those who supported him, and those who didn’t chose to turn off the TV when it came to NFL games.
Supporters grew furious at the NFL’s response and stopped watching as a silent protest. Meanwhile, those who opposed Kaepernick were simply enraged at the thought of a player kneeling during the anthem, and so they also tuned out.
This past year, as civil unrest grew and players and fans demanded a call to action against police brutality, a similar drop in viewership occurred as players continued the kneeling tradition.
Additionally, we of course can’t forget the conditions in which this NFL season took place. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the NFL to improvise when it came to scheduling games, and once again, viewership took a dive.
Firstly, with the massive coverage of COVID-19 across all major news platform, the NFL season was often considered an afterthought. Secondly, as multiple teams saw virus outbreaks, the NFL had to reschedule many games. For example, the NBC Prime Time Thanksgiving Game, which drew in 21 million viewers per year over the last two years, was moved to a Sunday afternoon slot where it only brought in 10.75 million viewers.
Have NFL TV Ratings Always Been Going Down?
TV ratings were down this year, but the NFL was actually enjoying a gradual upwards trend before. The NFL hit its peak in 2015 when it drew in 18.1 million viewers per game. In 2016, viewership dipped massively as we talked about to 16.5 million and then again to just 15 million.
However, ratings started rising up once more. In 2018, viewership increased by 5% to 15.8 million and then again in 2019 to 16.5.
So, we can probably assume that the drop in viewership isn’t actually as troubling as it may seem. After all, the elections and COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on the league, and of course, its viewers too.
In fact, the NFL still remains the most popular TV event in the US. In 2020, NFL games held 69 of the top 100 most watched programs. The Super Bowl, of course, was at number one with 99.9 million viewers.
In fact, after the Super Bowl, only the two Presidential Debates and the single Vice Presidential debate drew in more viewers, before another NFL game held a top spot (the conference championship games). No other sporting event even came close to the top 100, as the first appearance by a non-NFL sports broadcast was the World Series at 114.
How Much Do Networks Pay the NFL for Broadcasting Rights?
Cowherd mentioned that he felt relaxed after hearing how much networks pay the NFL to broadcast games. So, how much is that figure at exactly?
According to reports, ESPN, CBS, NBC, and DirecTV pay the NFL about $8 billion a year in licensing fees. That is a massive sum and is certainly larger than any other sport in the US. Additionally, the NFL is looking to secure a deal which would pay them $100 billion across 10 years.
However, if the NFL doesn’t rebound from this season, that deal could be in jeopardy, in which case Colin Cowherd may have been very, very wrong.