NHL ratings rise on opening night while NFL and MLB decline

By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL’s down ratings are showing little signs of improving as Week 6 of the 2016 season kicks off. Thursday Night Football between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers drew a 9.9 overnight rating, down 5 percent from the Thursday night game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons in Week 6 of 2015, according to Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily.

To be fair to the NFL – something Roger Goodell does not seem to understand – the rating for Broncos-Chargers is up from last week’s Cardinals-49ers Thursday night game, which drew a 6.7 overnight rating. Nevertheless, the NFL continues to see a dip in TV ratings year-over-year. Week 6’s unenticing Sunday night and Monday night matchups don’t bode well for the league to rebound in the ratings this weekend.

The Major League Baseball playoffs also saw a ratings dip on Thursday night. Dodgers-Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS drew a 3.8 overnight rating, as compared to 5.8 for the Dodgers-Mets NLDS Game 5 last season, which was also on a Thursday.

Interestingly enough, the NHL saw an uptick in TV ratings for its season-opening slate of games on Wednesday night. The St. Louis Blues, who likely have drawn new fans after the Rams moved back to Los Angeles, saw its best-ever overnight rating for a game on NBC Sports and the fourth-highest rating in history for an opening night game on the network. The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings’ late west-coast battle saw a 0.39 overnight rating, which looks minuscule but is actually a 34 percent improvement over the same opening night time slot last season.

For whatever reason, the NHL has seen strong early returns on its own ratings as compared to the dip for the NFL. There’s no concrete evidence that an appreciable number of fans are turning off the NFL (or even baseball) in favor of the NHL – and of course, the NHL’s total audience is still a small fraction of that of the NFL and MLB – but it’s interesting to see a rise in ratings for the NHL, nonetheless. For what it’s worth, hundreds of fans have emailed me in recent weeks to say they are boycotting the NFL over national anthem protests by its players, and a handful have mentioned the start of the NHL season in a favorable light.

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

At this point, it would be an incredible leap to suggest that the NHL is directly benefitting from whatever amount of fans are tuning out of the NFL over the anthem protests. But the movement sparked by 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, while not necessarily the sole reason for fans’ disinterest in football or the lead factor in the decline of NFL ratings, may have been a “tipping point” of sorts for fans that have grown tired of the NFL’s lack of parity, diminished on-field product, over-saturated TV broadcasts, and politicizing of escapist entertainment.

An eye-opening new national poll by Quinnipiac University shows that American adults disapprove of athletes protesting the national anthem by a margin of 54 percent to 38 percent. The poll also shows a racial divide, as white Americans disapprove of the protests by a margin of 63 percent to 30 percent, while black Americans approved of the protests 74 percent to 17 percent. About 63 percent of those surveyed for the poll were white.

Putting aside the growing racial divide over Americans’ attitudes toward police, there’s no question that there is a large segment of Americans who do not approve of athletes protesting the national anthem and, by extension, the American flag, and it’s hurting the NFL. I believe the amount of fans boycotting the league is larger than many media members believe. There’s no question that the league’s overall product is down compared to previous years, and if you want to point to that factor as “ground zero” for the decline in ratings, that’s fair.

You are entitled to feel however you want about American police, military, and players’ decision to protest the anthem and flag. Just understand that if you are not one of those who is boycotting the league over these same issues, that there are people in other parts of the country who feel differently and much stronger about the subject, and you ought to be able to accept that the divide exists. Too many high-profile media members seem eager to deny that this part of the population is out there. The Sporting News deserves credit for its fearless and in-depth reporting on the matter.

Even if the boycotters don’t number in the millions or are not the main cause for the decline in the NFL’s ratings, it’s simply wrong to dismiss this segment of fans altogether.

America feels as divided as ever in 2016, and the NFL appears to be caught in the middle of it. The league can blame its ratings decline on the presidential election all it wants, but it doesn’t seem to understand how dismissive and insulting it is being to its own fans. Whether you’re watching less football because of the games themselves or the national anthem protests, the league doesn’t seem to be listening.

Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed 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 mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.

Comments (11)
  1. Jon Beatty says:

    Its the all the color rush jerseys (and every other gimmicky thing the NFL rolls out). The orange broke my TV and my eyes are still bleeding.

  2. Jason Pry says:

    This was a very good read! I couldn’t agree more

  3. Jim Chen says:

    I am not a football fan. But several of my friends boycott NFL because of the flag and national anthem. The media and NFL tried to downplay or deny such boycott. It is political incorrect for them to say that. They are out of touch with many fans.

  4. Wilson Brown says:

    I do not watch Thursday night football and don’t plan tp

  5. John Schlutz says:

    i dont want politics in my entertainment…….same thing happened to steven segal preaching to the audience at the end of his films about nature…it destroyed hhis career

  6. Matt Myers says:

    If your following the NFL ratings decline story, this is probably the best assessment of the situation in the 30-50 articles written nationally in the last month. Most all articles give very little credence to the anthem protest being the final straw while 80% of the comments in those same articles state otherwise. For all the other excuses given nothing has changed between last season and this season unless you believe men are sitting around watching Face The Nation on Sundays following the election haha. NFL broke the cardinal rule of business, when you get involved with politics or religion you are going to turn off a large segment of your clientele. This is one American who has not missed a season in 40 years but just can not stomach it anymore. I love the game and am hoping that they fire Goodell and change direction. The part I find odd in this whole thing is that having worked with the NFL, the #1 rule is, you don’t screw with the NFL’s money. No other organization I have ever worked with has ever squeezed every last penny out of every single thing they touched like the NFL. For them to sit back and take this hit seems almost unfathomable to me.

  7. James Williams says:

    I can only speak for myself, but for me it is all about the the growing disrespect for the “country”, which is code for white Americans. Recall last years’ S-Bowl halftime? How about the fact that the NFL wouldn’t allow the Cowboys a decal to honor dead cops? NFL has chosen sides. I’m not sure if I’ll even start watching again. With each passing game it gets easier not to watch.

  8. Tim says:

    If they would get rid of the stupidly colored jerseys, I might be apt to watch Thursdays nights more often!

  9. Jim says:

    NFL, it’s about BLM, stupid! I’m done. As for the uptick in NHL, well, it’s almost entirely white. I considered getting NHL TV on Roku, but decided I didn’t need a sport to follow badly enough to spend the extra money. Maybe I’ll change my mind on that one though.

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