Mailbag: Is the election to blame for all the sports TV ratings declines?



Whether it’s NFL or PTI, ratings are down! On your Twitter replies most of the feedback seems to be “Duh, election!”  What do you think?

Orlando, Fl


I thought I might get to slide on being so wrong about this, but it is probably the most interesting ratings-related question of the times. We’ll have to see if confession does the soul good.

Prior to the ratings for the first presidential debate I wasn’t fully bought-in on blaming the election. I bought into it being a contributing factor for sure, there was certainly correlation, but I wasn’t sold on it necessarily being a big factor.

In 2011, NFL games on broadcast networks averaged 19.8 million viewers and in 2012 it dropped to 19.3 million, a decline of less than 3%. 2008’s NFL viewership on broadcast networks was steady versus 2007 and 2004 was down less than 1% versus 2003. Those years the election was not that big of a thing.

My fatal flaw was assuming that the media echo chamber which I’m usually immersed in wasn’t necessarily representative of the broad and diverse United States of America. That assumption usually does me right, but not here. Many pointed out that the record ratings for the republican primary debates should’ve tipped me off.  I was aware they were out-sized but they were not really yuuuge.

Third-rate ratings prognostication. Sad!

When the first presidential debate numbers came in it was clear to me that I’d been loud wrong and that Trump (or Trump/Hillary, if you prefer) was definitely an outsized phenomenon. Now I’m fully buying in to the election being a major contributing factor in ratings declines. Hashtag: BlameTrump

Worse still is this: I also kind of buy the notion that if Trump wins the trend would continue post-election. That’s fantastically great news if you’re CNN, Fox News or MSNBC — lots of people being scared about whether we plan to blow someone up or if some country plans to blow us up is great for cable news ratings. Even just “what crazy thing did he say/do today?” curiosity would be good for news ratings. But  I can’t see that being to ESPN or FS1’s benefit.

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