By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — How do you stop a monster that keeps growing and getting more powerful the more you feed it? You could start by feeding it less, or stopping altogether. The National Football League, and its esteemed commissioner, is one such creature, and it appears that scores of long-hungry fans may finally be stuffed.
Sports Business Daily reported Monday that the overnight ratings for Sunday Night Football between the Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears drew 18.62 million viewers and scored a 12.9 in the Neilsen ratings, which is down from 13.7 in Week 2 and 13.9 in Week 3 a year ago. Elsewhere, the early-afternoon regional slate of games on CBS dropped by 18 percent compared to Week 3 last season while FOX’s 4:25 p.m. game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles (which saw Philly win in a surprisingly one-sided affair) dropped by 1 percent from the same time slot last season. The lone bright spot was FOX’s early-afternoon slot, which went up by about 3 percent.
In less surprising news, the overnight ratings for Monday Night Football paint a bleak picture, too. The game between the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints was an absolute barn-burner and a good one for the gamblers and fantasy GMs of the world, but it was going up against the first presidential debate, so a ratings drop was to be expected. MNF scored a 5.7 overnight rating, according to Sports Media Watch, which is about 38 percent lower than last season’s 8.9 in the Week 3 matchup between the Bears and New York Jets.
It’s no surprise that overnight ratings for the debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump look massive across the board and MNF would take a hit as a result. But even if the game was not going up against a presidential debate, there’s no way it would have done an 8.9. The ratings were going to drop regardless of what else was on.
One of the only other bright spots for the NFL’s TV ratings was, in fact, the Patriots systematically dismantling the Houston Texans on the much-maligned Thursday Night Football. The game was live-streamed on Twitter and drew over 2 million viewers on the social media platform alone, according to Recode. It’s possible that the game saw an uptick in ratings due to the massive intrigue surrounding how the Patriots would play with third-string quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center.
You could come up with a number of reasons for the drop in ratings. The lack of star quarterbacks, perhaps. Mike Ozanian of Forbes believes it could be the #BoycottNFL movement, which was sparked by Colin Kaepernick and his National Anthem protests. In that case, it would be too bad that those fans missed the Saints and Falcons standing hand-in-hand together in a “circle of unity” after Monday night’s anthem performance.
But if you ask me, I’ll tell you that the declining ratings are due to a weaker product on the field.
Do I have facts and hard data to back that up? No, it’s just my opinion. But I do have two eyes, as do many other NFL viewers, and Week 3 was simply a bad brand of football that failed the proverbial eye test. As thrilling as it was for Patriots fans to watch the Patriots demoralize the Texans with their third-string QB, that was not an entertaining, enjoyable product for fans of any other franchise.
Redskins fans saw poor officiating nearly ruin the game. Cardinals fans watched their team give up a touchdown on a botched field goal snap. Browns fans saw their kicker miss three field goals and also had to endure the rest of the team. Saints fans saw their punt return team botch the play in the worst way possible.
Those are just a few examples of what was a week filled with sloppy, barely-professional-looking play across the board, with some questionable calls and floods of advertising mixed in. The NFL, as addictive as its product is, could be slipping – and for now, you have proof in the TV ratings.
If you’re not a fan of Roger Goodell, you won’t see him gone – or see anything change, really – until you start to hit his constituents in the wallets and bank accounts. Declining TV numbers won’t change anything overnight, but it’s certainly a good way to clue the league in that their product is not up to snuff right now.
Viewers have started feeding the monster less, and now the monster is shrinking. Continued rating drops would only make the decline in the league product more glaring – and, perhaps, spark real action to make the league better. If you truly want a revolution, changing the channel is a good start.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.