The NFL has been brought to its knees lately.
Between players at national anthem time and league executives when they see the TV ratings, there hasn’t been a lot out there making football stand proud.
And with the overnights in from the season-opening Philadelphia Eagles-Atlanta Falcons stinker Thursday night, it doesn’t look like there’s going to be much for the NFL to celebrate this year.
Sports Media Watch reports that the game put up a 13.4 overnight rating on NBC, an 8 percent decline from last year’s 14.6 for Kansas City Chiefs-New England Patriots and down 19 percent from the 16.5 that Patriots-Denver Broncos drew in 2016 before Colin Kaepernick’s sideline protests became all anyone can talk about regarding pro football.
The last time ratings were this bad, it was in 2008, when Sen. John McCain’s nomination acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention forced a delay of the game and led to just a 10.1 rating.
Since 2002, when overnights weren’t available for the game on ESPN, this is the fifth-lowest viewing audience in 16 years of the NFL Kickoff media event.
Part of the problem was the game’s kickoff was delayed by inclement weather. It was nasty in Philadelphia Thursday night, and that led to people who may have been watching instead turning off the TV or changing the channel and not switching back after finding something else to watch.
But even with that, ratings peaked at 14.8 for the 9:30-9:45 Eastern time slot, which is still just 1 percent higher than the overall average viewership — not the peak, the entire broadcast — from last year.
In football terms, that’s the Patriots taking a 3-0 lead early in the first quarter of Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears. Yes, it’s a good thing, but in context it tells none of the story (Chicago won that game 46-10).
Plus, speaking of weather delays, the last time Mother Nature engaged in executive meddling with the TV schedule, the old girl was only able to knock ratings down to 16.2 for the lightning-delayed Baltimore Ravens-Broncos opener in 2013.
Making matters worse, you’d expect the game to draw well in the cities that are home to the teams that played in the actual game; even a Browns-Lions game will draw well in Cleveland and Detroit.
Well, you’d be half right. The game drew well in Philadelphia, pulling a 32.9. That’s closer to the national average rating for Super Bowl LII (43.1) than to the national rating of this game.
Unfortunately, the game went over like a lead balloon in Atlanta, drawing just a 19.8. That was only the third-best city rating, behind Philadelphia and New Orleans (24.5).
The bigger picture here is the clear nationwide evidence of the NFL’s decline.
The start of football season used to be a cause for national celebration, the game inspiring a lot of sports fans to use phrases like “better than summer” after a nine-month pigskin drought.
Now? It’s just another Thursday night TV show, and not even a particularly highly rated one.
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