It’s no secret that NFL TV ratings took a hit in 2020, but football is still indubitably the “league that runs TV.”
Earlier this month, the NFL announced that they reached a new deal with television partners. It made headlines for the ridiculously high value of the deal: $113 billion over 11 years.
The deal is set to be in effect from the 2023 season and run till 2023, and is clearly an increase from the current deal. The league currently earns around $7.5 billion per year from TV partners like Fox and CBS which will increase to over $10 billion per year.
An astute observer would probably point out the unusual timing for such a hefty deal. The league is fresh off a poor season in terms of TV viewership.
Viewership was down somewhere in the region of 7% and multiple games underperformed, including the season opener, wildcard games, and the Super Bowl.
If this is true, then why did the NFL just secure a massive TV deal?
NFL TV Ratings: Football Still Outperforms Every TV Program
What some people need to understand about the ratings dive of the NFL is that they are competing against themselves. The ratings have been consistently high in previous years, and 2020 was a tough year.
Between a global pandemic, increased action against racial injustice following the murder of George Floyd, and the election, it was not a particularly helpful environment for recording extraordinary TV ratings.
Every sports league faced the same problem. In fact, the NFL probably dealt with the situation the best considering that they suffered the least significant fall in ratings.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark: “Other Sports Have Stopped Competing with the NFL”
Kevin Clark of the Ringer appeared on the “Press Box” podcast where he spoke on the situation. He points out the fact that 48 of the top 50 broadcasts were still football games. This means that the NFL still runs TV, and they are well aware of it.
According to Clark, there are around a dozen framed copies of an article that titled the NFL “the league that runs TV” published by the Wall Street Journal in 2011.
“They take some pride in being the league that runs television,” said Clark. “There’s a reason that they’re able to get this much money — it’s because you are not relevant as a network [without NFL]. It’s because the NFL is the only thing that Americans do en masse anymore.”
“An NFL executive on the media side told me that they used to go in every March … and one of the meetings is the media side — How are we doing? How are we making our money? All of that stuff,” Clark explained.
“And the league executives used to, I don’t know, 15 years ago, say, ‘Hey, here’s how we’re doing against other sports. Here’s how the Super Bowl did against the NBA Finals. Here’s how the Western Conference Finals in hockey did against this Bucs game.'”
“And then, maybe 10 years ago, it switched to, ‘Okay, here’s how we’re doing against “The Big Bang Theory.” Here’s how we’re doing against “60 Minutes.”‘ Because the other sports stopped competing.”
“The NFL has always been the most popular sport, but the gulf only got bigger and bigger in this age. You saw that recently in the decline of ratings across the board. The NFL was down 7% this year. Everybody else was down way more than that.”
“It’s just a different ball game now. And now, from what I understand, I’m not sure they can even do the ‘Hey, we get more viewers than “Big Bang Theory” or “Masked Singer”‘ because 48 of the top 50 broadcasts are just football games now. It’s over. This is television. Television is propped up by football.”