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NFL ratings are down but it’s still king

Television ratings for last weekend’s four wild-card games were down from 10 to 22 percent.
Television ratings for last weekend’s four wild-card games were down from 10 to 22 percent.SEAN GARDNER/GETTY IMAGES

NFL television ratings were down across the board during the 2017 regular season, the second straight year the league’s viewership fell from massive to slightly less massive.

As evidence, and perhaps to feed any anti-NFL schadenfreude you may be harboring, here are the prime-time viewership numbers for “Thursday Night Football” (NFL Network/CBS/NBC), “Sunday Night Football” (NBC), and “Monday Night Football” (ESPN) compared with the previous two seasons:

“TNF”: Averaged 10.937 million viewers, down from 12.438 million in 2016 and 12.425 million in 2015.

“SNF”: Averaged 18.175 million viewers, down from 20.323 in 2016 and 22.522 million in 2015.

“MNF”: Averaged 10.757 million viewers, down from 11.390 in 2016 and 12.896 million in 2015.


With similar declines in CBS’s and Fox’s Sunday afternoon broadcasts factored in, NFL ratings were down overall by 9 percent this season. In 2016, ratings were also down by 9 percent from 2015.

(Ratings for the four wild-card games last weekend were also down individually from 10 percent to 22 percent compared with games in the same time slots last year.)

This is, of course, alarming to the NFL and its broadcast partners. In 2014, a nine-year extension of previous deals with CBS, Fox, and NBC kicked in, with the three networks paying the NFL a total of $3.1 billion annually. ESPN pays another $1.9 billion per year on its deal.

Those contracts looked like guaranteed jackpots for all parties when the NFL’s ratings continued to rise through the 2015 season. But after two years of declines, the league’s broadcast partners now know that 2015 was the peak. What should scare them now is that they don’t know the depth of the valley yet. What are the collective ratings going to look like when the rights deals are up after the 2022 season?

For those who look at the declines in a vacuum and conclude — perhaps in an effort to confirm their own biases — that is a sign that the NFL is wheezing toward a collapse soon, context is required. Yes, ratings are down significantly. That coincides with pretty much any other type of programming on television, especially on cable, where the cord-cutter effect seems to have no end in sight.


Consider: “Sunday Night Football’s” average of 18.2 million viewers was its lowest since 2008 (16.6 million). And yet “SNF” remained the most-watched prime time program in the fall season, with eight games ranking in the top 10 most-watched individual shows/episodes. Overall, among the top 50 most-watched television broadcasts in the fall, 37 were NFL games. Last year, 28 NFL games cracked the top 50.

In the micro sense, this is an NFL problem, because it’s apparent the league and its partners had no clue a decline in ratings was coming when the rights deal kicked in in 2014. But in the macro sense, it’s something affecting every program of every genre on television. To put it another way: Ratings are down again. The NFL and its partners are beyond worried. But producers, directors, key grips, best boys, duffers, and any other behind-the-scenes personnel you want to name who want their work to reach the largest possible audience still have one television option that is greater than any other. It’s the NFL, and it’s going to require a far deeper fall into that valley before this is no longer the case.


McGuire feels ‘fantastic’

NBC hockey analyst Pierre McGuire plans on working the Winter Olympics next month despite recent surgery for prostate cancer.

“I had no signs at all that I was ill,” McGuire said Wednesday on TSN 690 in Montreal, when he revealed the diagnosis. “My work habits hadn’t changed. My workout habits hadn’t changed. My eating habits hadn’t changed. I hadn’t lost weight and hadn’t gained weight.”

McGuire, a former coach of the Hartford Whalers, said the cancer was discovered when his doctor told him he needed to undergo further testing for a potential abnormality after his annual physical in September.

McGuire, 56, was diagnosed with Stage 1 prostate cancer. He underwent surgery to remove his prostate on Jan. 3. He told the radio station he feels “fantastic.”

Providence wasn’t watching

Boston has earned its label as a town that favors professional sports far more than it does college sports. But don’t sleep on Providence, which apparently slept through Monday’s national championship college football thriller between Alabama and Georgia. Of the 56 major markets per Nielsen, Providence was dead last with a 9.9 rating. Boston was all the way up there at 48th (11.2). Predictably, Birmingham, Ala., (57.6) and Atlanta (47.8) were 1-2 . . . I’ve chatted a few times with Gotham Chopra, the director of “Tom vs. Time,” the upcoming peak-behind-the-curtains series on Tom Brady that will be posted later this month on Facebook Watch. Chopra, bright and engaging, grew up in Milton and is a diehard Boston sports fan, though he lives in Los Angeles now. He’s worked with Brady before on his “Religion of Sports” series on the Audience Network (Brady is a producer).