Through 5 weeks, across all networks and TV windows NFL viewership is averaging 15.6 million viewers per minute which is up 3 percent versus the same point in 2017. Here are the Y/Y changes for various demographics:
|People age 50+||9%||6%||11%||0%||8%||8%|
The NFL’s good ratings story
It’s not just a story! It would be (and at least for me, still is) easy enough to imagine the NFL ratings sliding by at least another 5 percent and that they haven’t is great news for the NFL.
But even if the NFL’s #s had slipped another 5 percent or even 10 percent it’d still have a great story to tell because relative to the field of shows like “This is Us” and “The Big Bang Theory” small declines look like a day at the beach.
When it comes to advertising at scale the NFL is kind of the only game in town
If you want to advertise with any scale on TV outside of the College Football Playoff semifinals/championship and an Olympics every couple of years your choices are the NFL & some more NFL.
More good news for the NFL.
It seems remarkable because it is!
In an environment where people are bailing out on watching live TV in droves…that people aren’t bailing out on the NFL at the same levels is remarkable. Even if the NFL declined another 5-10% this year it would still be remarkable that the NFL would still be gaining relative strength rather than losing it. As we head towards new NFL rights agreements post-2021 the NFL remains fabulously positioned despite the declines over the past two years.
In this TV environment even treading water seems pretty remarkable. Especially at scale.
Is it good news for the NFL’s TV partners?
Long before talking about NFL ratings declines were a thing I frequently heard and read “NFL is a loss leader for the networks!” The notion that “the NFL costs more than its worth” is nothing new to TV networks. But if the NFL ever did the networks any good with their non-NFL programming it’s a lot harder to sell that concept today.
It’s been true for a while that you couldn’t make the math work strictly based on advertising. In round numbers if Fox Sports really paid $45 million per game for its TNF package, I have Fox losing about $10 million-$20 million a game based on advertising alone. But if Fox can raise its retransmission consent fees a “mere” $.20/month/household it’ll cover the losses. I’m sure the hope at Fox is “$.20? psssh. That’s worth at least an extra $1.00/mo/household!”
I wouldn’t bet a lot of money on them pulling that off but if following TV for 10+ years has taught me anything it’s this: do not bet against the affiliate/retrans salespeople.
How long is it sustainable?
People want reasons for ratings changes but I like Ad Age’s Anthony Crupi’s theory that “2015 was the NFL’s peak, things were always going to pull back from the peak and now things are just settling down from that pullback.” I know that explanation is very unsatisfying for some because it’s a “that’s just how it is” explanation. But what if that’s actually just how it is?
If so, how long is it sustainable? More importantly how long is TV’s dual-stream revenue model sustainable? Previously my answer has always been “A lot longer than most people imagine!” but now I would and a qualifier: “Probably a lot longer than most people imagine!”
Gven the current TV landscape big changes within the next year or two (say 20% declines in NFL’s #s) shouldn’t shock anyone. Surprise, perhaps. But shock? Definitely not.
I don’t know how long the dual-stream model will remain but if I had to bet…
It’ll be sustainable through the next round of NFL rights
That’s good news for the NFL and bad news for those who’ve already been screaming for 5 years that the sports rights bubble is going to burst.