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What’s behind the NFL’s sagging ratings?

Lewis Wallace Oct 7, 2016
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Football is watched on phones, tablets and computers in addition to TV, and Nielsen ratings will reflect that next year. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

What’s behind the NFL’s sagging ratings?

Lewis Wallace Oct 7, 2016
Football is watched on phones, tablets and computers in addition to TV, and Nielsen ratings will reflect that next year. Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Pro football is looking at an unexpected downturn: 10 percent fewer people have watched NFL games on TV this season compared to this time last year, according to Nielsen. Monday night football has taken the biggest hit, with viewership down 17 percent.

But we don’t know if fewer people are watching games overall.

“We don’t only consume football on television,” said Travis Vogan, a professor of communications and American studies at the University of Iowa. He said people are moving really quickly from TV to watching on phones, tablets, computers, and the ratings system hasn’t caught up. Nielsen will start calculating total viewership including digital platforms next year.

Michael Lysko, a professor of sports management at Southern Methodist University, also said some of the most popular players are gone, and some matchups just haven’t been strong so far. Plus, each year there are a few more games to choose from.

“I’d be divorced if I watched football when it was always on.”

Still, there have been some unusual things going on this season; for one, protests by players upset about racism and police violence and vocal counter-protests, as well.

Aaron Botwinski, a lifelong Packers fan, said he’s boycotting the NFL.

“I love football, I love the game, but the NFL has absolutely ruined it,” he said. “They’ve made it way too political.”

A Rasmussen poll this week found almost a third of adults in the U.S. said they were less likely to watch NFL games because of the players’ protests.

Years of bad news about sexual assault, concussions and even tax breaks have also angered some viewers.

Vogan said the final factor is that the NFL is competing with another faceoff, Clinton and Trump. Their first debate, the most-watched presidential debate in history, was during Monday Night Football.The Packers are playing the Giants during the next debate Sunday. 

That’ll be kind of an interesting test to see where America’s interests lie,” he said.

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