Target 2: No agreement on reasons for NFL ratings plunge

Target 2 On Assignment

NFL television ratings have taken a tremendous hit this season, and the Green Bay Packers are not immune.

Primetime ratings are taking the biggest plunge. The number of fans watching Monday Night Football is down 17 percent from a year ago. Sunday Night Football is seeing a 15-percent drop. And Thursday Night Football has taken the biggest hit, down 22 percent.

We don’t get overnight ratings in Green Bay, but in Milwaukee viewership of Packers games is also down but faring a little better, with ratings down 9.5 percent.

What’s behind the sudden, sharp decline in viewership of America’s most popular sport, and what is its impact on the Packers?

It was last Thursday night at Stadium View in Ashwaubenon, and people were less enthused by what was on the big screen TV’s.

“You’ve got a Thursday night game tonight with Cleveland and Baltimore. Is anybody really interested in Green Bay in a game like that?” Jeff Newton, who hails from Chicago, said.

Newton and Rob Van Lieshout are some of the faces behind the numbers adding up to the NFL’s ratings fall.

“I do not watch the NFL as much as I used to,” Newton said.

“Not even close. Not even close,” said Van Lieshout, who’s from Green Bay.

“I think the NFL has a whole bunch of systemic problems,” St. Norbert College professor Kevin Quinn said.

Quinn is one of the country’s leading sports economists and authors. He says while the NFL is pointing the finger at the presidential election for the ratings drop, he believes there are larger reasons, including two major ones.

The first is over saturation.

“There is a lot of product out there, and I think the Thursday night game is more than just one more game that’s there. It wrecks the whole ‘special-ness’ of the weekend. I mean, you get a game Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night, that’s half the week.”

Quinn’s other ratings buster is the amount of advertising.

“It’s just incessant commercials,” he said. “The kickoffs are horrible. Somebody scores a touchdown, OK, they do an extra point which is not as automatic as it once was, but still pretty automatic, and then they break for a bunch of commercials. Then they have the kickoff, which seems to be always a touchback, they break for more commercials. I mean, that’s 5 minutes.”

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted the league may have to look at reducing commercial time to keep games around 3 hours.

“You start getting three-and-a-half, 4 hours, it’s hard to keep people’s attention that long,” Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy acknowledged.

Murphy says the ratings plunge is on the team’s radar.

“It’s a league issue, but it affects all of us.”

Murphy, though, isn’t ready to equate a fall in ratings with a drop in interest. He sees it more as the league needing to adapt.

“One of our league meetings they talked about how the average millennial watches a game with five screens, so I had trouble, I could get up to 3, I wasn’t sure what the fourth and fifth screens were,” Murphy said. “I think you’ll see more and more of our games on other platforms.”

Too many games, too many commercials and changing viewing habits may be just part of the problem.

Talk to 10 different fans and you’ll likely hear 10 different reasons why they feel NFL ratings are falling — from sloppy play, poor officiating and national anthem protests to player safety and the way the league disciplines and controls players.

“They’ve changed the game so much over the last few years with the rule changes, and I don’t think it’s a game that people are energized by anymore,” Van Lieshout offered.

“We’re in a video game era, where that little cutaway in a video game of a player celebrating something is so part and parcel of the experience that young fans have when they watch it, to not see it is jarring and to see it flagged, even more so,” Quinn said.

“For the most part I think these are self-inflicted wounds by the NFL, and they’ve just become regarded as so greedy — I don’t even know how else to say it, I mean, the league looks so greedy, the commissioner is so ham-fisted in dealing with issues,” Quinn went on. “If the league were run like the Packers were run, I don’t think ratings would be down like this.”

Despite the ratings decline, professional football has few peers when it comes to television popularity — at least for now.

“Still obviously very popular, but we’re also concerned with the drop,” Murphy said.

Quinn said, “They are still drawing piles of eyeballs, but the direction is not good and the public perception is not good either, and it’s like anything else, stuff goes on without change until the day it changes.”

For the last two weeks, NFL ratings nationally have shown signs of rebounding. Sunday’s late afternoon Eagles-Seahawks gave resulted in CBS’s best ratings of the season, and Sunday night’s Packers-Redskins game on NBC was slightly up from the same week a year ago.