Prediction: NFL’s TV ratings this season will be down 5-10%
Prediction: the NFL will spin that by noting that the national NFL windows were the most-watched programming on TV by a wide margin.
Both are easy predictions. The ratings prediction might be wrong but until that trend reverses I’m riding with it.
I wouldn’t worry too much about the TV ratings if I were the NFL. I’d worry more about how concussions and the kneeling controversy and other factors outside of the game wear down people’s ability to put the warm embrace around the NFL. And with all sports, watch for the empty seats in the venues. That sends a message that drags on the brand.
In another era, say 20 years ago, the NFL might have withstood all that better. But that was an era when the boredom alleviation landscape was very different. Twenty years ago TV was #1 by a wide margin, everyone wasn’t on the internet and smartphones hadn’t been invented.
Now that we have a relative infinity of options to combat boredom, I don’t think leagues can as easily withstand the little things that might sour us nearly as well. Those things add up and take a toll.
On top of that the league has a replacement problem. Fans who literally got old and died off aren’t being replaced by new fans. I know some think that millennials are just forming households later and will soon pick up the pace with replacing viewers. I don’t reject that idea I’m just not optimistic it’ll lead to most of the “lost” new viewers being recovered.
The NFL’s best bet is probably to invest in warm & fuzzy marketing and PR. I doubt that will help much in drawing in new viewers, but it might help with keeping the viewers they already have.
Speaking of smartphones: something to watch
When smartphones were becoming ubiquitous and people were forming habits on how they used them unless you were a Verizon customer you couldn’t form the habit of watching NFL games on them.
Now the Verizon exclusive is over and this season you’ll be able to watch NFL games on your smartphones via the networks with NFL rights mobile apps. People who watch live TV on their phones via services like YouTubeTV and Vue will be able to watch on their phones now too.
I’m interested in how and how much NFL telecasts will promote smartphone availability in-game early this season. That’ll give us a better idea of how big the league and its TV partners really think that opportunity is.