The NFL has been at the center of controversy on multiple fronts in recent years, and even faced criticism from President Donald Trump and others over its embrace of pregame protests by players and subsequent support for the Black Lives Matter movement.
That ongoing feud between the league and many of its fans, among other factors, apparently took a toll. According to Breitbart, Sunday Night Football was obliterated in the ratings last weekend, coming up 20% shorter in Week 13 than the same game in 2019.
Down by 6% at season’s midpoint
CBS and Fox aired Sunday afternoon games for which the ratings were down 13% and 30%, respectively, over the previous year. Sunday Night Football on NBC was similarly down by about 20% compared to the viewership for last year’s Week 13 matchup, as Breitbart noted.
Still, an earlier game on Sunday saw an increase in viewers for CBS, while Monday Night Football held steady in a comparison with last season, according to a study conducted by Sports Media Watch.
In a separate study, Front Office Sports found that overall ratings were down by about 6% up to Week 12 compared to the same point in the 2019 season.
While the pandemic and its various disruptions of the current season certainly made 2020 a difficult year for the NFL, its complicated record on social justice issues has not made things any better.
Week 12 was the best so far in the 2020 season, possibly due to the Thanksgiving holiday. Even when including the estimated 18 million viewers who tuned in to watch games during that weekend, however, the average weekly viewership for the season has dipped to just over 15 million.
“They aren’t in the toilet”
As Front Office Sports concluded, “some TV executives worry the NFL’s 7% drop through the halfway point of 2020 augurs a return to the 2016 and 2017 seasons,” which saw steep declines offset by stronger performances over the past two seasons.
It was also during 2016 and 2017 that the NFL sustained heightened criticism over the ongoing protests during the national anthem. Those demonstrations took on a diminished role in subsequent seasons, which also saw a recovery in the league’s sagging ratings.
Some experts, including former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, remain bullish on the NFL’s season.
“Considering all the issues the NFL has had to deal with, the ratings are OK,” the sports TV consultant said, according to the Associated Press.
In Pilson’s assessment, “[i]t hasn’t been a great year for ratings considering everything that has happened, but they aren’t in the toilet either.”