The Football just sucks right now!
We have looked at whether politics has played a part in footballs viewership decline while also looking at television viewership’s decline as whole in past posts to explain the awful viewership numbers both college and professional football have had this season. This is my final argument to why football has seen such viewership decreases. Football is just not as interesting as it once was. Let’s start with what both college football and the NFL have struggled with, “Player Safety”. Just this week, Richard Sherman criticized all the rules and protocols put into place in the name of “player safety.” With disturbing research and terrifying unknowns about head trauma, football has tried to soothe worried mothers and fans alike. But not to anyone’s satisfaction.
The game has become a protector of the offense at the expense of the defense, in reaction to these concerns. Most seasoned watchers of the game express frustration and even contempt at the direction the game is going. Bleacher Report, in an interesting article, looked at this issue from a defensive players point of view. From the perspective of Mike Mitchell a defensive player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a franchise that it is built on defense, “What’s Legal? What’s illegal? Lines blur like never before, destroying the game he loves,” was discussed. The whole piece articulates the major tension in the sport. The sport was built around violence, hard hits and bruised bodies. As it has gained popularity and the research on head trauma has increased over the last 20 years the violence and future health concerns have been at odds with each other. Does football need to evolve to ease the future health risks or can it no longer be called football if you reduce the violence? These questions remain unanswered. Leaving both sides upset. But there is a distinct fear that the NFL will go the way professional boxing. This issue affects the sport from the NFL all the way down to Pee-Wee football. But it is not the only entertainment problem with football.
Both college football and the NFL have some other serious entertainment issues that could be driving fans away:
In the NFL it is obvious the games have not been as exciting as years past. One of the issues the NFL has is how great Major League Baseball has been. Baseball has had 2 straight years of drama and intrigue, garnering fans to its ranks. With the Cubs victory over the Indians in 2016 many thought it was just a fluke. But when baseball was able to match that interest with the Dodgers and Astros World Series in 2017, they might be on to something. Baseball has added young stars to their marketability as well driving advertising money and fans loyalty to the game. After ending two epic World Series in a row no one was ready for average football, but unfortunately that is what they got.
There were no great teams or storied franchises that made the game interesting in the 2017 NFL season. Instead there were season ending injuries to star players like, J.J. Watt, Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr and Andrew Luck. Even young talent like DeShaun Watson and Carson Wentz that had gained a fan base and a story line, suffered season ending injuries late in the season to cast a wet blanket on an already moist season. High profile and exciting teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders of the 2016 season became humdingers by the end of the 2017 season.
Not only did the NFL lose star power and story lines, but their individual match-ups were not exciting this year. There were no “Blockbuster Games” as they are called it in the industry. In 2015 there were 13 NFL games that hit the 15.0 household rating. 2016 only had 3 while this season only had one game hit the magic threshold. The Pittsburg Steelers/New England Patriots game on December 17th was the first and only time the NFL hit the Blockbuster mark.
The NFL, because of injuries and underperforming power teams, had a decrease in interest by casual fans to the game. College football has a completely different problem, but just as important when looking at the loss of viewership.
College football’s problem is that they cannot- or rather refuse to- admit their postseason is a joke. There was hope with the 4-team playoff system that perhaps the intrigue and interest level would rise. It has not. Viewership numbers of the big bowls and the playoff system confirm this. We need look no further than UCF this year to see why. It takes prestige and pedigree to make it to the play-off in the same way the BCS worked. An undefeated team only matters if they are in the right conference playing the right opponents. The elitism and mundane that is the college football post-season does not endear fans. It causes fans to go elsewhere. Again, the SEC was the only conference in the National Championship. Again, a small market team was screwed out of a chance to play for glory (read here all about the history of the unfairness of college football National Championships). All the problems the BCS had still exist and have proven for another year, it’s not what the fans want. [We have created our own college football system here that solves all those problems]. Fans rejection of the currently playoff system can be seen through lack of viewership and a look at our countries culture outside of sports.
When looking at the 2016 Presidential Election we see how American culture has rejected elitism. Whether it was Donald Trump on the Right or Bernie Sanders on the Left, both campaigns rose on being outside the elite. They both ran on the platform of rejecting elitism. The way college football handles who makes it into the College Football Playoff is certainly that. A room full of experts decide who gets in and who doesn’t. Only in college football is an undefeated team not as good as a 1-loss team without having to play each other. A room of experts tell us who is better and who is worthy.
These are serious entertainment issues that the sport of football has. They have to prove to their fan base that the sport is not slowly killing its participants, something it has failed to do to this point. Both the amateur and professional level deal with their individual entertainment issues. College football can and should change their post-season, but they completely refuse to do it. The NFL has a much less tangible problem. Injuries are devastating to a League that markets on stardom. I think the frustration for fans of football has caused them to be disillusioned and go elsewhere.