After a controversial 2017, National Football League ratings decline even more than before

Kristopher Nichols
January 6, 2018

The NFL isn't in a vacuum, as the viewership drop is indicative of the general environment as less television is being watched and cable subscriptions have declined. Another factor brought up that could be attributed to the ratings decline is the NFL RedZone network, which offers roving coverage of Sunday afternoon kickoffs and only shows fans footage of games when teams are in scoring positions. Its 18.2 million viewers beat the second-best prime-time show, Thursday Night Football on CBS, by 29 percent - its largest margin ever. That is a steeper decline than the 8% viewership erosion previous year. During the 2015 season, an average of 17.9 million viewers tuned in.

December 10, 2017: San Francisco 49ers players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans.

An average National Football League game was watched by 1.6 million fewer people compared to a year ago, declining overall from 16.5 million to 14.9 million, ESPN reported.

Mulvilhill noted that the ratings decline for Fox's Sunday games was more pronounced at the start of the season, when the anthem protests were a major story and President Donald Trump was weighing in. But the acceleration of ratings declines in the most recent season signals that viewership didn't merely temporarily dip, and could mark the beginning of an ongoing trend.

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NBC's "Sunday Night Football" averaged 18.2 million viewers, an 11% decline from the previous season and its smallest audience in nearly a decade.

However, the National Football League has recently made an aggressive push to increase its digital presence, and will continue to do so to hedge against TV viewership losses moving forward. "Those highlights can be eight, nine or 10 minutes long, and I do worry they can be serving as a disincentive from watching the live game".

Sunday is New Year's Eve, "the fact that NFL football has taken a big hit in the ratings department this season" was also a factor.

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