NFL Ratings Fall at Faster Pace

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An added medium to watch games on Thursday night, with Amazon Prime Video this year and Twitter in 2016, also helps dilute viewership for the traditional National Football League television partners.

CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN all had smaller audiences in 2017, and CBS suffered the worst decline at 11.2 percent. An NFL game was watched by an average of 17.9 million people in 2015, and viewership dropped 1.4 million, or 8 percent, in 2016.

National Football League ratings were down eight percent in 2016, which spurred changes in how commercials are presented in order to speed up the game. But it had little effect.

Trump attacked the NFL on Twitter for not cracking down on players who kneeled in protest during the pre-game playing of the USA national anthem, encouraging people not to attend games and pointing out ratings declines.

Mulvilhill noted that the ratings decline for Fox's Sunday games was more pronounced at the start of the season, when the anthem protests were a major story and President Donald Trump was weighing in.

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Other factors cited include the dilution of the product through Thursday Night Football, which was broadcast on the NFL Network, CBS, NBC and Amazon Prime in 2017. Both NBC and ESPN had the most-watched shows every single week, in terms of audience and in all key male demographics, for Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football games this season.

The NFL finished the regular season with TV ratings that fell almost 10 percent below the previous season because of changing viewing habits, controversies facing the league and a possible saturation point in the number of games available.

Despite the drop, 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows on television past year were football games, according to the Nielsen data.

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