What you take away from the NFL ratings data depends on how you read it. CBS’S Dana McClintock reported the ratings for NFL Week 3 on CBS were up 4 percent.
Sports Business Journal’s John Ourand reported the early ratings numbers are slightly down overall when compared to last year, but are expected to be up after the Monday Night Football matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals are factored in.
The increased curiosity over the national anthem has caused networks to see an uptick of 19 percent in pregame show ratings.
Trump has created increased intrigue over the NFL ratings after suggesting on Twitter that ratings were “way down” because of boring games and anthem demonstrations. Trump is correct that the ratings are down, but the specific reasons are being debated by ratings experts.
According to Variety, the 14.6 rating was down about 12 percent in the NFL’s opener between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. This should be cause for concern for the NFL given last year’s 16.5 rating was down from 2015’s 17.7 rating. The NFL ratings were down about 8 percent in 2016.
While it is still early, the NFL ratings are heading in the wrong direction over the last two years. Trump’s harsh words for the NFL could have the opposite impact of what he intended. Fans may begin tuning into games (at least at the beginning) to see how their favorite team responds during the national anthem.
Newsweek noted the hurricane during the start of the NFL season could have impacted the early slide. However, last year the election was used as a common excuse for declining NFL ratings.
There are some games that have been up. According to Sports Media Watch, the Thursday Night Football matchup between the L.A. Rams and San Francisco 49ers was up 38 percent from the 2016 matchup. The Cowboys-Broncos late-afternoon Week 2 matchup was up 17 percent compared to last year’s FOX game.
Even with declining ratings, the NFL is wildly popular, and even the (mostly) lower ratings show millions of people are interested in consuming the NFL. However, other sports appear to be gaining popularity while the NFL is declining. According to Sports Media Watch, college football’s marquee opener featuring Alabama and Florida State earned a 12.3 rating, slightly lower than the NFL’s opening game despite other college football games being on at the same time.
The NBA had the craziest off-season in recent memory, and interest in the product appears to be on the rise. Ratings data is complicated as it often compares different matchups in previous years with sometimes incomparable recent matchups which could have better or worse teams playing.
Qualifiers aside, the NFL will be keeping a close eye on the ratings for the rest of the season to see if national anthem demonstrations could have any impact on their bottom line.