By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Another day, another disappointment for NFL ratings.
Yes, Monday night’s contest between the Bills and Seahawks was the most-watched program on television, according to Sports Business Daily, but it also showed a significant drop-off from last year’s Week 9 Monday Night Football game between the Bears and Chargers.
The Seahawks-Bills game drew a 7.8 overnight rating, which is the lowest Week 9 MNF game rating since 2007, per Sports Business Daily.
Deadline pointed to the rating as a steady showing for ESPN, but remember: This is the NFL, where growth is paramount. Whether it’s through an 18-game schedule or games in Europe/Mexico/China or a full Thursday night slate, the league has always sought and will always seek to grow. Any steps backward in an area once taken for granted will not be considered a positive by the league.
While the NFL has pointed to the election as a major reason for the ratings slump, SBD noted that the last time ESPN aired a Monday Night Football game one day before an election, it drew a 9.5 overnight rating despite not being shown in the New York market.
Just like Sunday night, the NFL should be concerned with the lower viewership on Monday night because all signs would theoretically point to big ratings. Not only did the game feature a high-profile home team with a high-profile quarterback going up against one of the more high-profile head coaches in the sport, but it also turned out to be a very competitive game that was not decided until the final minute. Big plays were made on both sides of the ball by both teams. It even had a controversial officiating situation that theoretically might have grabbed some viewers who saw the situation unfolding on Twitter.
Nevertheless, it couldn’t draw the same ratings as last year’s Week 9 meeting between the 2-5 Bears and 2-6 Chargers.
To update a figure from Monday, ratings have now declined year-to-year in 27 of 28 of the NFL’s prime-time games this year.
While the reasons for the ratings decline are many, Saints quarterback Drew Brees and offensive lineman Zach Strief blamed the NFL’s front office — headed, of course, by commissioner Roger Goodell — for deceiving football fans for years and thus draining much of the enthusiasm for the sport around the country.
“We feel like [the decline in TV ratings] is a direct result. I know the players don’t have any faith in the way that things are conducted within the front office in the NFL — certainly when it comes to any type of investigation, when it comes to any type of commissioner discipline,” Brees told ESPN. “It’s really kind of a joke at this point, unfortunately. And it shouldn’t be like that.”
Strief said the relationship between players and the league is at an all-time low, and that contentious situation may have seeped into fans’ perception of the league.
“The NFL front office has seemed to have found a way to make everything somewhat contentious. It feels like there’s this constant assault on the players, like we’re two entities. It’s like they don’t think they need us to do this,” Strief said. “And I think over time, as it’s constantly in the media and it’s constantly a public issue, I think the fans start to feel a similar way. It’s just a constant contentious issue. When you take Brady and say it affected Tom Brady and it affected the New England Patriots, well the fans feel like they’re a part of that. It does affect them and it does affect their team and it does affect how you feel about the league, and it does turn you off.
“At the end of the day, the relationship between the front office and the people who are not in the front office has probably never been worse.”
That’s likely a factor, though the ratings drop for the juggernaut NFL remains a multifaceted phenomenon. With the election ending this week and the Seahawks and Patriots set for a Sunday night Super Bowl XLIX rematch, it should be safe to expect a notable boost — at least for this one game.
At the same time, ratings for Thursday night’s Browns-Ravens matchup certainly won’t be great. Sunday’s late game of Cowboys at Steelers ought to be a decent national draw, while Monday night’s Bengals-Giants game offers little appeal to the masses.
Whatever happens this upcoming week and beyond will be particularly noteworthy, as Tuesday’s election will remove one of the ready-made excuses the league has clung to in order to explain the ratings drops.