After last season’s opening weekend set all time viewership records, 2016 NFL television ratings are at their lowest point in years.
Primetime ratings have been especially depressed. Monday Night Football is down nearly 20% from last year. And Sunday Night Football, the most popular program in all of television, posted its lowest overnight rating in nine years last weekend.
A few of the various reasons for the decline include competition against a presidential election cycle featuring the two least liked candidates in history, fans boycotting the NFL in protest of National Anthem protests by several players and unexciting team scheduling.
The Week 4 primetime matchups should have been marketable broadcasts. Pittsburgh brought a wide fanbase and offensive star power to their battle with Kansas City, another popular team who made the playoffs last season. The Vikings defense against the big-market Giants vertical offense was also an intriguing matchup.
Perhaps a surge in digital streaming has had the largest effect. Estimates believe live NFL streaming is up roughly 20% this season. However, this increase does not negate the downward trend in total viewers.
Lower ratings means less advertising income, which would impact the NFL’s television contracts in the long run. The NFL is still the most popular form of television entertainment by far, the league is a cash cow. A small dip in profit would not mean very much to the team owners. But a sustained loss of viewers could eventually harm the product on the field, since the annual salary cap is based on revenues.