By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL continues to have a ratings problem, even as the league barrels toward the second half of the season and coverage of the presidential election is winding down ahead of Election Day. Monday Night Football once again took a ratings tumble year-over-year, as the Vikings-Bears Halloween matchup drew a 7.2 overnight rating, which is down 18 percent from Colts-Panthers in Week 8 of 2015 (8.8), according to Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily.

Sunday Night Football took a big hit as well, losing to Game 5 of the World Series in the Oct. 30 ratings battle by a margin of 15.3 to 11.6. It was the first time since 2011 that the World Series beat SNF in a direct ratings competition. The two programs also went up against each other in 2015, but the World Series-clinching win by the Kansas City Royals on Nov. 1, 2015 lost out to Broncos-Packers on SNF that night.

There’s no doubt that the 2016 World Series has some extra juice to it, as the Chicago Cubs have a chance to win their first World Series since 1908 while the Cleveland Indians have a chance to end their own 68-year drought. But even playoff baseball historically loses out to regular-season NFL games in primetime, which makes the World Series’ victory over the NFL striking.

The NFL has faced a flurry of negative off-field stories in recent years, including domestic violence and DeflateGate. Most recently, the national anthem protests led by Colin Kaepernick have sparked a backlash whose true size is relatively unknown. Domestic violence is also an off-field issue with baseball players, but a backlash to national anthem protests (and, obviously, DeflateGate) are problems that only exist in football.

Perhaps the piled-up bad publicity is finally catching up to the NFL – but it’s still not that simple.


SEE ALSO: Arrogance, Deceit, Oversaturation At Root Of NFL’s Ratings Decline


The actual games and the broadcasts also have lost appeal. The endless penalty flags and commercials have also turned off viewers, as has the actual competition. The Vikings are a good team, but the Bears are dreadful and are led by one of the least likable players in the league in Jay Cutler. Whether it’s the coverage of undesirable topics or the actual play on the field, the NFL has become significantly less watchable.

It’s even more complicated for ESPN, which has seen a precipitous drop in TV subscribers in recent months. Neilsen recently reported that the network had lost over 620,000 subscribers in just the past month, but the ratings measurement giant recently retracted the estimated numbers to investigate their accuracy after Disney execs strongly disputed them, according to Variety. The network has reportedly lost over 11 million subscribers since 2011, which is almost certainly at least a partial result of “cord-cutting” by younger viewers ditching traditional cable.

There are a large number of problems affecting primetime football, and now it’s losing out to on-field products that it routinely beats when put up against them. It’s hard to blame election coverage when baseball’s ratings have improved and even the NBA’s opening night saw a 10 percent improvement over last season.

Primetime football is no longer the most watchable product in fall sports. There may be too many issues to make the NFL’s ratings problem an “easy fix,” but the problem still exists, and it’s likely not going to magically disappear after the election.

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 (108)
  1. Guy Litton says:

    Not watching until the league issues a new policy requiring players to stand and show respect or stay off the field during the anthem.

  2. Pro football has become boring, PC, and too controlled. Except for players off-field behavior.

  3. Sea Worthy says:

    They have resorted to Not showing the National Anthem. As if this means the players are respectful to the Country, Military, Vets and Citizens. Not showing it does not mean it did not happen. PC correctness running a muck and the NFL can not see the forest for the trees. I have not watched a game all year which is down from 4 a week last year. I have found that the time I am not in front of the TV allows me to pursue other interests, and less beer. I doubt there will ever be another NFL game watched at my house.

  4. I’m not going back to the NFL, they hate me!

  5. Buddy Wilcox says:

    Its Karma disrespect the Anthem and you get KARMA

  6. Brock Semlow says:

    its a 60 min game that takes over 3hrs to play, heck last 2 mins can take 30 mins, over payed babys play a game played by everyone else for free, the action is not not great 15 secs of play at a time. heck i have better things to waste my time with then this garbage have not watched for 3 yrs now not even commercial bowl. oh then theres how these idiots act off the field buts that a whole other kettle of fish

  7. Where to start, how many reasons not to watch?

    1. POLITICS. The commentary will tend to go progressive politics and should be left out of the broadcast booth. It seems the announcers do everything they can to make the game about them and social commentary.

    2. KAEPERNICK. Everyone has a right to protest and have a point of view. But a snot-nosed rich kid who never had any of the treatment he protests, who has little clue about what he is protesting, and (to some of us) started protesting to raise his profile and not get cut, is being excused by the NFL.

    3. COWBOYS. As opposed to the treatment of Kaepernick being allowed to protest, the Dallas Cowboys were denied permission to wear symbols supporting the DPD and honoring the fallen officers in the mass assassination. NFL supports hatred of America and opposes support for law enforcement.

    4. PENALTIES. Yes, there is probably a penalty on every play. But not calling some blatant penalties (see Cam Newton) and calling some penalties that seem petty compared to other, especially when it changes the outcome of the game, is beyond annoying. The inconsistency from crew to crew is an issue as well.

    5. QUALITY OF PLAY. I have tried to watch a couple games, especially end of close games. It just seems the quality of play isn’t as good as it used to be, maybe contributing to the penalty complaint in point 4.

    6. COMMERCIALS? From what I found, the games are not significantly shorter or longer than before. But, as the Wall Street Journal noted in 2012, there is only 11-18 minutes of action (2-8 seconds per play) in a 3 hour and 18 minute game – time spent on replay reviews took more real time than action – broken up by upwards of 100 commercials.

    7. NO FUN LEAGUE. I can understand no taunting, but no celebrations what so ever? Gimme Billy White Shoes Johnson, the Fun Bunch, Terrell Owens, etc. Let the guys have fun. The game will be more enjoyable and maybe keep the audience interested.

  8. Political sermons, too many flags and too many commercials. Fix it.

  9. Spider says:

    Most folks won’t admit it but the truth is we’re not just tired of the political bias to the left, we’re good and tired of black thug players. Were’s the diversity, man? You’re still running a business and 70% of your audience is under represented. Call me bigoted if you want but that’s the elephant in the room or should I say stadium.

  10. Mike Favetti says:

    On top and aside of what has already been said, these guys for the most part are paid in excess of their ability, beyond that most, if not playing ball, would be in jail. They look and act like hoodlums and we have enough those already without the need of glorifying them on TV.

  11. I believe the lion share of the ratings drop is due to the NFL and the team owners not reeling in their employees and allowing them to mix personal politics with an American escapist past-time. What’s next flag burnings before the coin toss?

  12. Steve Grant says:

    NFL…..why would Americans support an entity that subsidizes players why hate America enough to take a steaming dump on the National Anthem?

  13. …and if NBA players start disrespecting the flag, we’ll turn that off too!

  14. Message to Goodell and Kaepernick:

    Blacks are only 13% of the US population, but commit 65% of the VIOLENT CRIMES in America:

    http://americanfreepress.net/?p=14864

    When is the mainstream-media going to expose this NATIONAL EMERGENCY … ???

  15. John Beier says:

    The NFL has gotten political, and their ratings suffer.

    ESPN has gotten political, and their ratings suffer.

    Without offering any opinion on the merits of their political positions, it is simply bad business to take a position that will alienate a large portion of your audience. You will not attract viewers by becoming political on a sports show. All you can do is lose viewers whom you have annoyed.

  16. LOL… You morons pushed it too far!

  17. jameswlee2014 says:

    Bench K and leave him there. Fire Goodell and hire Mike Ditka. The ratings will come back.

  18. tadchem says:

    Limbaugh had it right, but the NFL still hasn’t figured it out. Sports is what people go to when they DON’T want to face anything political or controversial.

  19. I’m one of those who is boycotting for the national anthem.

  20. Anytime I see any player not standing for the Anthem, I switch the channel .. simple as that.

  21. Bill Hyder says:

    The beginning of the end for me is when it was made clear, Phil Simms would not and said as much, he would not say the word “Redskins”. Then the politicization of the anthem and the lack of any statement from the NFL regarding it. I’ve watched pro football from Unitas days. Am sick of it.

  22. Simon Peter says:

    Get Rid of Political ESPN.

  23. NFL…. Can you say, “Thank you, Kap!”?

  24. Don Lasker says:

    I disagree with the author of this article wanting to cast any blame on Jay Cutler, QB of the Chicago Bears, for NFL broadcast lows. His description of Cutler as “one of the least likable players in the league” is an invalid ad-hominem and low-brow argument. Furthermore, Cutler stands proudly for the national anthem, hand-over-heart, at each game. Which, if some of the NFL’s ratings woes are due to national anthem protest, then that would not apply to Cutler, and –in fact– should make him _not_ one of the least likable players in the league. On top of all this, Cutler outplayed the Vikings QB in the game in question, and won the match for his team.

  25. Keep taking those knees you idiots. It’s working SO well.

  26. It’s the Kaperdink knee-taking PC baloney that makes me not watch. That’s racism couched in PC-speak. In addition, you can’t go 4 downs without 2 penalties and everyone is a pansy now.

    I’ve read others talk about ESPN, too. You can’t watch those clowns without them cramming their tired, failed leftist ideology down your throat and acting like it is “progressive”….they have a PC blindness that is mind-boggling….

  27. Floyd Martin says:

    We want to watch a ball game! We don’t want to hear about politics and the news!
    We want to have a good time and just watch the Game!
    Protest on your dime not ours!
    Keep Sports and entertainment out of Politics!

  28. Krapernacky who started the whole disrespecting the Nation thing was wearing a BLACK PANTHER tee shirt the other day ……. I may NEVER watch the NFL EVER again.

  29. Garth Bowen says:

    Good. I stopped watching on TV too. These people who make so much money and don’t like this country are not worthy of our admiration. Lots of little local heroes exist- let make them special – we have the boy’s scouts, the talented students, the volunteers who take care of the sick, elderly and poor. They kids need to be encouraged; they build up our civic institutions.

  30. John Smith says:

    Quit watching when they allowed protests in uniform. I will never watch again except the Super Bowl.

  31. Will David says:

    taking a stand against the knee. sorry Jed York(49ers ceo) and good for nothing goodell..not one dollar for the nfl..nor their advertisers

  32. Argos Wolf says:

    Baseball and Basketball ratings will start to decline too once players in those leagues start with their kumbaya SJW protests.

  33. Doug Day says:

    Delategate? Really? It’s Kap and you know it. And Brady wasn’t suspended over underinflated footballs. Goodell went after Brady with a vengeance because of a big, red, TRUMP hat in his locker that went viral after it was spotted during a locker room presser.

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