Ratings Down, NFL Losing Popularity?

Posted at 8:02 AM, Oct 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-10 09:02:47-04

NFL ratings are down significantly through the first month of the season and league executives, TV networks and fans of the league are asking why?

Some have posited it's the lack of star quarterbacks following the retirement of Peyton Manning and the suspension of Tom Brady. 

There's a thought that it's the violence of football and the gradual decline of viewership based off fewer kids playing the sport, while others believe it's the proliferation of games on TV or the NFL's crackdown on celebrations this year. 

But college football isn't suffering the same kind of ratings drought despite similar concerns about player safety, even more games on TV and absolutely no celebrations. 

This is a NFL problem, and it's because fans no longer can relate to the league. 

The biggest cause I see for the drop in NFL TV ratings is the series of scandals and controversies that have become the norm. Football is no longer providing fans the escape they once enjoyed, so they're choosing other forms of entertainment. 

It started with arguments over player suspensions and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's role as judge and jury in punishments. It escalated with Deflategate, when fans watched the league pursue a four-game suspension of Tom Brady for over a year all the way to the court of appeals, while Brady dug his heels in about his innocence despite significant evidence to the contrary.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of the public couldn't have cared less about deflated footballs. 

Fans want to cheer Brady's touchdowns or hope their team is the one to stop his Patriots' juggernaut. They want a league that serves as a diversion to the stresses of work, paying bills and supporting a family. They don't want a league run by billionaires bottling up the court system to battle one of its multi-millionaire players over the pounds per square inch of some footballs. 

Fans lose touch with the league when one of its richest owners, Stan Kroenke, refuses to even entertain talks with city leaders that wanted to build him a new stadium, moving the Rams out of St. Louis for a perceived larger pot of gold in Los Angeles.

The Chargers and Raiders have threatened to bolt on their cities and fans in the last year as well, further severing ties between a league concerned about nothing but the bottom line and the common man. 

When Colin Kaepernick decided to sit, then kneel for the national anthem, the NFL did nothing. While you may or may not agree with the reasons Kaepernick cited for his protest, it was a test for the NFL. 

Among the duties of players in the league is the expectation they stand for the national anthem. Like many employer/employee contracts, players are expected to avoid behavior that brings a negative attention to the league. At many workplaces, a protest like that would be grounds for punishment, if not dismissal. 

The NFL's decision not to punish Kaepernick or other protestors further alienated much of its fan base. They say it's about free speech, which Kaepernick has. But when wearing a uniform provided by an employer you are not entitled to free speech, at least without consequences. So the NFL's silence is looked at as support of Kaepernick. 

The protest became a political issue, and for many NFL fans it was too much. 

In the middle of an election year, the protests politicized the NFL. The games that once served as an escape from the real world now became a reminder. One that came from a millionaire quarterback far more privileged than 99 percent of the people watching. 

The NFL has lost touch. The league, its owners and players have no idea who their fans are or what they value. 

They're learning the hard way this fall, as those fans turn their attention elsewhere.