This is the conclusion to a four part look at what has caused viewership decline in football. Here is the First Part, Second Part and Third Part.
Conclusion: Why does football have a viewership problem?
We have explored over the last two weeks the reasons I have identified behind the drop in viewership for both the NFL and college football. In our first post we looked at politics. This has been the issue most discussed among conservative commentators and the most under represented from the sports media. In our second post we looked at how football may just be following the trend of all television viewership, not a topic being covered. Lastly, we discussed the lack of interests and entertainment that both college football and the NFL have brought to fans over the past couple of seasons.
Here is my take on it all. The short answer is, all three have played a contributing factor in the loss of viewership numbers, but not equally. Long answer, I believe the biggest issue both sports has struggled with is excitement and interest. The college football post season has made most of the season unimportant. The huge fans of their college still turn in, but those that used to turn in to see who was the best team have become disillusioned with the NCAA’s process for crowning a champion. There was hope and intrigue when they decided to move to a playoff system, but even that turned into a boring contest of the biggest, richest schools competing against each other. This year was the perfect example of everything wrong with their system. An undefeated “Mid-Major” school was left out while two SEC teams were granted access.
The NFL is also struggling with the issues of player safety and concussion protocol. There has also been a loss of fan favorites like Peyton Manning while others that have come to fill that role like J.J. Watt have been sidelined with injuries multiple seasons in a row. Other great stars, seasoned and blossoming have had the same fate and it has destroyed interest in the game.
I believe over the last couple seasons these problems have been festering, testing football fans loyalty to their game. But it was the launch of the politics that pushed people over the edge.
This has much more to do with the sports media than the actual athletes, but the amount of coverage that has been placed on Colin Kaepernick has been a sword in the side of the sport. Listening to any of the national sports coverage has shown deep partisanship on an issue that is overwhelmingly unpopular with the American people. In a country that has come off years of tense race relations followed by a deeply divisive presidential election, most people wanted to find peace and comrade in football. When that safe space was injected with the same poisonous politics that seemed to be overwhelming the country, people went elsewhere. And it is so easy to go elsewhere.
Television is struggling. But football has always been the exception. I think the entertainment issues and partisan politics have contributed to football no longer being the exception. Maybe more people are watching than the numbers say. I would not be shocked to hear that, the method by which they try to calculate those numbers seems imprecise. But football gets its money from television deals and television deals can be made because of advertising revenue. If advertisers do believe the numbers, and believe they cannot get the views to make the investment worth it television and football are in trouble.
I don’t believe it is over. I also don’t believe it will rebound if no changes occur. I think there is so much pride and ego involved that the chance of the change occurring are low. The interest level must be raised. College Football has control of that. The NFL has a much trickier trial. This is the biggest, most important reason football has struggled in my opinion. The political posturing was the final straw that broke the most important back in television. Football is no longer the exception to the rule when it comes to television viewership.