According to Bloomberg, the 2016 NFL season saw viewership drop by 8% versus the previous year.
8% may not sound like a lot, but the advertisers that over-saturate NFL game coverage do not take kindly to receiving 8% less than they paid for, so the networks last year were forced to give away free commercial time to make up for the ratings decline.
And the NFL is off to anther bad start this year. According to Darren Rovell of ESPN.com, the NFL audience is down by another 7.5 percent this year.
There have been many theories for the ratings decline, and everything and everybody got blamed for the ratings drop: Anthem protests, poor match-ups, non-competitive games, the rise of online streaming, the presidential election, hurricanes, and much more.
But what is not a theory is that the ratings slump is beginning to impact corporate America's bottom lines, per Rovell:
In the past week, Credit Suisse lowered its price targets on both Fox and CBS stock, citing NFL ratings declines.
"If ratings don't improve materially, we see a potential headwind to domestic advertising revenues," the investment bank's analyst Omar Sheikh wrote of Fox on Thursday.
On Monday, Sheikh estimated third-quarter revenue for CBS would be off 3 percent, versus the previously projected 1 percent, due to "soft ratings for both the summer [programming] and for the start of the NFL season."
If I were an NFL owner, I'd have some serious questions for the commissioner about why the heck ratings are dropping for the second straight year, and perhaps wonder if Marc Cuban was right after all: this is entirely a home-made problem.
"Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I'm just telling you, when you've got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That's rule No. 1 of business."
Cuban was specifically referring to the NFL's recently expanding its television package. He considers it a poor business decision for the NFL, which consistently dominates TV ratings, to play games on days other than Sunday and Monday.
Cuban said the NFL is making a mistake by valuing television money over the convenience of fans who are used to planning for their NFL teams to play on Sundays with occasional Monday night games. He compared it to the decline in popularity of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" after the game show expanded to air five days a week.
"They put it on every night," Cuban said. "Not 100 percent analogous, but they handled it the same. I'm just telling you, pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered."
If the ratings decline continues, the NFL itself is going to come under mighty pressure from the networks to do something about the declining advertising revenue, and no amount of sunshine pumping by the overpaid commissioner is going to fix that. It won't be much longer before the networks come back to the NFL asking for a discount on the fees they are paying for the broadcasting rights, never mind that the contracts run through 2022 and the fees are largely set.
Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk writes that “the decline for the first six weeks of 2017 in comparison to 2016 has grown to 18.7 percent.”
I don't know of a single company that would try to get a contract extension done with its CEO if sales were down 18.7 percent. Which is why the NFL working on an extension for Roger Goodell is so baffling. He's already cost the NFL dearly in terms of public goodwill, soon he's going to start losing the NFL some real money. Maybe then the owners will start listening up.
The NFL needs a new commissioner.