NFL’s Goodell says election cratered ratings, doesn’t address possible oversaturation

According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the NFL's ratings woes this year were primarily driven by the election.

He may not have been in any hurry to directly tie repeated concussions to CTE, but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the jury is already out on the cause of the league’s fall TV woes: He said the election caused the problem.

“It’s clear that the election had an impact,” Goodell said, speaking to reporters earlier this week. “There’s no question that going head to head with debates, you’re going to get that kind of a [ratings drop]—particularly with an election that may have been more followed than any election in our history.”

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The Commissioner came armed with data.

Ratings for NFL games shown in prime time on ESPN, CBS and NBC had been down around 20% up until the Nov. 8 election. Audience performance has been off only around 2% year-over-year since the election. 

Also notable: Nielsen said Thursday that Fox News finished as the No. 1 basic cable network for the first time ever in total day performance. 

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The NFL’s sudden ratings drop was closely watched by the pay-TV industry, with live pro football games supplying one of the few consistent viewership draws in linear television, and many pay-TV—both in programming and distribution—paying billions of dollars to license content from the league. 

Goodell’s choice to focus on the election is important, in that a number of credible critics of the league’s media strategy—which included NFL coaching and broadcasting legend John Madden—had begun to publicly wonder if the league was over-saturating itself with too many broadcast deals. 

For its part, the NFL said it would table back on some opportunities, such as streaming games from London on Yahoo.

But Goodell isn’t talking about cutting Thursday-night games, which are split between multiple distribution partners and are now being criticized for contributing to an oversaturation problem.