The NFL has hit a rough patch lately, with viewership shrinking every week as the season progresses. The quick and easy response when this topic is brought up is that the World Series, NHL and NBA are drawing viewers away from the meaningless mid-season games. There is no doubt that this rings true in some form, but the NFL has much bigger problems that it is dealing with, which is the real reason behind the ratings drop.
The biggest issue for most casual fans is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The last few seasons have been a tremendous disaster for him. There have been litanies of domestic violence cases, drug problems and other off the field issues that have drawn attention away from the players and onto Goodell himself. Many have criticized him for how he has handled domestic abuse issues, such as the Ray Rice and Josh Brown situations. It isn’t a coincidence that the female audience has dropped significantly in the last season. Fans don’t want to watch a product that they feel has been tainted by off-the-field issues.
It’s impossible to bring up the NFL anymore without mentioning concussions. The last few seasons have brought concussions to the forefront of people’s minds. The effects of the concussion scare have caused the NFL to revamp its rules, which aims to protect people’s heads more so than ever before. Quarterbacks are barely touched anymore, mainly because doing so almost always results in a roughing the passer penalty. Many fans have voiced concerns on social media, calling the on-field product soft due to the lack of big hits and frequency of penalties. The NFL is forced to cover their backside in this case, particularly with a one-billion-dollar concussion settlement for retired players. Concussions in the NFL have also led many parents to stop their children from playing football at a young age, and instead steer them towards other sports. This drops the interest of younger fans, who will eventually grow up and feel disconnected to football.
The biggest problem the NFL has right now is that the product is simply not good. There have already been two ties this season, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since 1997, which was, ironically, the last time Cleveland was in the World Series. There have been too many games that were not up to par with the product fans are used to seeing. No casual fan wants to watch a Thursday night matchup between the Jaguars and the Titans. There are a lot of bad teams in the NFL right now, most of which are led by coaches who aren’t very good either. For example, the 49ers took a gamble on Chip Kelly after his failed experiment with the Eagles, which has completely backfired on them. They are currently 1-6 after losing 34-17 to the Buccaneers. There are plenty of examples of this across the NFL as well, each of which strengthens fans’ cases against watching the games.
The NFL has a lot to figure out if it doesn’t want ratings and viewership to continue to fall.