The slumping ratings narrative for the NFL has carried over into the New Year as fresh figures from Nielsen show the average audience for NFL games fell more than it did during the 2016 season.
An average of 14.9 million viewers checked in for games this season, down 9.7% from 16.5 million per game during the previous season. That decline is higher than the 8% drop for the 2016 season.
According to the report, the NFL’s Thursday Night and Sunday Night games saw the biggest audience decreases, down 12% and 11% respectively.
But, as the Wall Street Journal pointed out, the NFL still put forth 33 of the top 50 television programs in 2017. And ratings have been down for all of television, not just NFL broadcasts.
The average audience Nielsen announced for the NFL at the end of the regular season is pretty much equal to the numbers the firm offered up six weeks into the season. The firm said that an average of 15 million people were watching games through the first six weeks this year, down 7.5% from the average 16.2 million people that watched through week 6 last season.
When the 2017-2018 NFL season opened with slightly lower viewership, coverage of Hurricane Irma was cited as a possible reason for the ratings erosion, much like the 2016 presidential election affected NFL viewership.
But President Donald Trump’s criticism of NFL owners and players over protests against police brutality and racial inequality during the National Anthem, which began last season with then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, helped fuel theories that the protests could be causing the ratings decline.
Despite the ratings declines, ad revenue from NFL games continued to increase through the first part of the season. Through September, ad spend during NFL live game broadcasts across all networks rose 2% from $504 million one year ago to $513 million. SMI did not include pre- and post-game coverage in its ad spending estimates.
Ad loads across all NFL broadcasts also rose 2% during that time period, according to Standard Media Index.