Through the first three weeks of the 2017-2018 season, ratings for NFL national television broadcasts are down 11% from the previous season, according to Nielsen.
Nielsen said that, after averaging 17.63 million viewers for the first three weeks of the 2016 season, average viewers for the current season have declined to 15.65 million—though Nielsen isn’t factoring in Sunday afternoon games that are broadcast to a regional audience.
The NFL, however, seems pleased with the viewership thus far for its Thursday night games. The league said the Sept. 21 matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams averaged a 4.4 HH rating and 7.4M total viewers on TV nationally—just on NFL Network, not OTA broadcast—up 18% and 22% respectively year-over-year.
Through two NFL Network +OTA exclusive Thursday Night Football games, total viewers (7.8 M) are up +27% versus 2016’s average across the 4 Thursday Night Football games on NFL Network only (6.1M viewers), the NFL said in a news release.
Though the NFL says viewership for Thursday night games is up, the season opener on a Thursday earned an overnight 14.6 rating among households, down from the 16.5 rating earned by last season’s opener. It was the second straight year in which ratings declined for the opener.
At the time, coverage of Hurricane Irma was cited as a possible reason for the ratings erosion, much like the 2016 Presidential election had a clear effect on NFL viewership.
But since then, President Donald Trump has escalated his war of words with NFL owners and players over National Anthem protests against police brutality and racial inequality, which began last season with then San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
Trump has said that the protests are at the heart of the ratings declines and said that NFL teams should suspend or release players who protest.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell responded to Trump’s criticism by saying that the NFL is “at our best” when helping to create a sense of unity.
“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” said Goodell.