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Analyst Bets on Solution to Declining NFL Ratings

TV’s most valuable property was down 6% during the playoffs

With the Super Bowl airing Sunday, analyst Michael Nathanson of MoffettNathanson Research has taken a close look at the ratings numbers and suggested a way TV’s most valuable property can reverse field and recapture lost viewers.

Nathanson says that while NFL ratings recovered after Election Day, they were still down 9% for the regular season and 6% for the playoffs. Primetime showed the biggest decline with ESPN’s Monday Night Football down 13%, Sunday Night Football on NBC dropped 11% and Thursday night games, split among CBS, NBC and NFL Network, was off 9%.

Sunday day games were down 7%.

Nathanson notes that ratings during the 2016 season were juiced by heavy promotion by daily fantasy sites. Even so, on a two-year basis, the NFL is down 7% with Monday Night Football the biggest decliner at 15%.

Pro football is huge for the network. NFL games, plus pre-game and post-game programming, account for 59% of Fox’s live plus same day gross ratings points during the season. Football represents about 25% of GRPs for NBC, CBS and ESPN in season.

Those numbers drive revenues. Advertisers pay high CPMs and distributors pay big bucks for retransmission and carriage of networks with football.

For all those reasons, there will be a lot of nervousness over the off-season as the league and its rights holders wait to see whether 2016 was an aberration or if football is a victim of the forces that are lowering ratings across the board.

“One potential change in the direction of viewership and ad dollars would be an evolution in the NFL’s view of legalized national sports gambling,” Nathanson notes. He points out the NBA commissioner Adam Silver came out for federal legislation that would provide regulations for sports gambling.

“Up to the point, the NFL has been reluctant to embrace Silver’s point of view,” Nathanson notes. “Perhaps, that would change if broader business decisions—and the health of the NFL’s  TV partners—were taken more into account.”