By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The NFL’s ratings decline is no joke. The league has a serious viewership problem on its hands.

Ratings dipped dramatically in Week 9 when compared to last year, with the prime-time Broncos-Raiders Sunday Night Football matchup dropping 20 percent, as reported by Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily.

The numbers on the Sunday night game, in particular, should be concerning for Roger Goodell and the NFL owners. It was a prime-time matchup that featured the defending Super Bowl champions (albeit without Peyton Manning) against an up-and-coming team with the best young quarterback in the NFL. There was no World Series game competing with it, and the game itself remained competitive throughout, as the Broncos kept the score within one possession for the bulk of the evening.

Nevertheless, the ratings weren’t there, and the drop-off from last year’s Eagles-Cowboys game in prime time in Week 9.

Karp noted that the breaking news regarding the FBI finding nothing new in the most recent batch of Hillary Clinton emails likely worked to draw viewers away from the afternoon slate of games on CBS and Fox.

The 4:15 p.m. national window on CBS featured the Colts beating the Packers in Green Bay, though ratings for that game were down 20 percent from last year’s Week 9 matchup between the Broncos and Colts.

While the soap opera-level of intrigue with the election has no doubt stolen some eyeballs from people who might otherwise be watching football, and while the protestors of Colin Kaepernick’s protest remain a vocal group, the common denominator among all of the ratings drops this season is easy to see: bad football. And while Sunday night’s game wouldn’t fall under that category, it’s possible that the cumulative effect of having the Chicago Bears on prime time four times in the first eight weeks and of having Jaguars-Titans and Dolphins-Bengals and other dismal “Color Rush” games every Thursday has dampened enthusiasm for the NFL product.

And, as @SportsTVRatings chronicles regularly on Twitter, other sports remain unaffected by the election or any other at-the-ready excuse for the NFL’s falling ratings. Just this past weekend, ESPN posted a 42 percent uptick in its Friday night doubleheader. And it’s not just a specific issue with the sport itself, as college football ratings have been strong this fall.

Of course, it’s important to keep in perspective that the NFL is still king among American sports in terms of TV ratings. While the World Series involving the Chicago Cubs breaking a 108-year championship drought did indeed draw very strong ratings, the reality is that the other three major American sports would love to have a midseason matchup draw an 11.7 rating like the NFL just did on Sunday night. So while the NFL’s current ratings drop may well represent a problem, it’s not nearly a “crisis.”

Still, considering the league’s once-bulletproof reputation for being an unstoppable ratings juggernaut no matter the circumstance or matchup or time slot, addressing the problem will no doubt move to the top of the list of every owners meeting from now until the ratings start to turn the other way.

For the first time in a very long time, the NFL’s executives and owners are going to have to get creative to entice people back to their product.

Comments (24)
  1. 1. Fire Rodger
    2. Kill (Color Rush) Thursday Night Games (They suck and it is not safe for the players)
    3. Hire full time Ref’s
    4, Stop throwing flags every two minutes
    5. Let coaches challenge everything (within their total challenges)
    6. Let players celibate a little and have a personality
    7. Increase the game day and practice squad rosters to build more depth and develop more talent.
    8. Stop these ties go for a field goal shoot out starting at the 50
    9. Have the bye week for half the league on week 8 then the rest of the week on week 9

    1. First stop the anthem protests and you may be on to something

    2. Football isn’t like baseball, basketball and hockey where refs officiate multiple games every week. What are full-time refs going do the other six days?

      1. Besides, full-time officiating doesn’t necessarily mean competence: Exhibit A: C. B. Bucknor. He’s been blowing calls for 20 years.

    3. John D Hull says:

      Players also need to be allowed to practice more. The lack of it is showing. That being said, and I agree with most of your list CdnPatsFan12, since the protests began, and since the protests are condoned by the league, a league that now has about 2% of its regular season games played outside the U.S., clearly the NFL no longer stands for NATIONAL Football League, and clearly they couldn’t care less about us. I too have stopped watching due to the protests and the fact that they have been allowed to be continued. Yes I realize they don’t show the anthem on TV, but damnit, during week 3 when I was watching a Broncos/Bengals game, sure as I’m inch high to a grasshopper, the CBS announcers HAD to show still pictures of various members of both teams kneeling during the anthem. THAT was THE final straw for me! I savor in seeing this decline. I truly hope it makes the league fold. I resent the NFL and what they stand for, as well as what they do not stand for.

  2. Steve Goss says:

    Priority #1 – Stop the anthem protests.

  3. I have been a NFL fan since 1963,but not anymore… I have not watched one second of the NFL since the Anthem protests,nor will I ever again…

  4. The World Series is over. The election will be over tomorrow. Cable-cutting doesn’t affect Sunday Night Football. Sports bars have been popular for quite a while.

    What’s different about 2016?

    Pretty soon the $40 Million Imbecile will be blaming the ratings decline on

  5. Thanksgiving and holiday shopping.

  6. Samuel Selga says:

    The league and the media are in denial of the protest affecting ratings!!!! I have not watched a game all season!!!!

  7. National Anthem protests are allowed but celebrating a play is not. Quit allowing cheating, pulling on a receivers jersey is cheating. I’m tired of the protests. There should be a code of conduct by the NFL on the sidelines.

  8. What is different this year than last? Only one answer and you have to be an idiot not to see it. Kneeling during the anthem. Half the people I know that used to watch NFL, no longer do due to this. Can’t speak for the others but I am done with the NFL.

  9. Rich Lorenzo says:

    This might sound counter-intuitive but I think the impact of fantasy football on how people consume the NFL cold have something to do with it. A few years ago I found it a lot easier and less stressful to wake up on Monday and check my team’s score than agonize through the entire day watching the points tally up. The seemingly randomness of outcomes (both in terms of individual player performances and team performances) has also greatly contributed to adopting the aforementioned non-viewing habit. I would spend hours agonizing over starting Guy A or Guy B only to see Guy C with the worst conceivable matchup blow up for a huge day. It just wasn’t fun anymore and slowly but surely I grew tired of the guessing game. Also, the high volume of injuries to good/star players, nonsensical rule book (such as the inability to define one of the most fundamental activities in the game: “a catch”), and horrible officiating are probably more likely causes but I think there’s something to the fantasy factor.

    1. Rich Lorenzo says:

      A different, and perhaps more straightforward, take on the fantasy football impact on changing viewing behaviors is that people care more about their fantasy team(s) than their home team or whatever team they would normally describe as “their” team. So rather than watch their team play they scoreboard watch, flip around to all of the games on Sunday Ticket, or watch NFL Red Zone. I’m not sure how ratings are calculated but I would think that each of those things would hurt ratings.

      And more broadly, in the age of Snapchat, Instagram, etc, it wouldn’t be shocking to find that attention spans of viewers have been whittled down to the point where sitting through a 4+ hour game for 11 minutes of actual in-game action, is simply not going to happen anymore. (That part can be interpreted as either: 1) the product as it exists today is fundamentally flawed and simply can’t hold the interest of viewers or 2) that there are too many commercial breaks interrupting what would otherwise be an adequately engaging product).

  10. Billy Bobb says:

    It’s the anthem protests stupid!

  11. Don Longmuir says:

    Trying to watch the Saturday night game between Fins and Jets. Only it seems to only be televised on a Sports Channel I have to pay separately for.
    Ah duh?

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