For the first time in decades, the NFL smarted from flagging television ratings this fall.
In August, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick stirred a national debate when he declined to stand during the national anthem at a home preseason game. Kaepernick was slammed for the decision, and further infuriated several when he made some critical remarks about America’s law enforcement and sported socks portraying police as pigs.
Hundreds of thousands vowed to boycott the NFL because of Kaepernick’s protest, but numerous in the media went on to suggest that it was the presidential campaign that harmed ratings.
Although ratings made a recovery after the 2016 presidential election, the resulting numbers show a substantial dip in ratings from last year. During the fall election, viewership of NFL games was down 14 percent from the same time last year, with an average of 15.5 million viewers per game.
Viewership rebounded following the election, but not enough to make up for the early losses. The final regular season total was 16.5 million viewers per NFL game, which is down 8 percent from the 17.9 average viewers per NFL game in 2015.
A further reason professional football may have taken a hit is due to a dearth of star power. Sports are similar film, Derek Thompson of the Atlantic says, “What national audiences desire above all are heroes, compelling challenges, and sequels.”
Peyton Manning was the league’s highest paid endorsement star fifteen months ago, making $12 million off the football field. Drew Brees, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Marshawn Lynch and Tony Romo rounded out the top nine players by endorsement revenue.
Fast forward 18 months and the roll of “heroes” has shrunk. Lynch and Manning have retired, while Romo and Watt have been injured for the majority of the season.
The NFL still earns more cash than any other league because of multi-billion dollar contracts with television networks. In 2014, the league pulled in $7.3 billion from contracts with ESPN, NBC, CBS, and Fox.