If NFL executives had hopes that the first round of this year’s playoffs would stop the ratings bleed that saw viewership drop a record 9.7 percent during the regular season, they were sorely disappointed.
Ratings for the four NFL wild-card games this past weekend were down about 13 percent from last year. The drop in viewers from the regular season continued into the playoffs and was helped along by the fact that relatively few big market teams were in action during the wild-card round. The New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks, both of whom played in last year’s opening round, failed to make the playoffs this go-round. The Green Bay Packers also missed out and the Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t play by virtue of a first-round bye.
The highest-rated game of the weekend, Sunday’s late afternoon contest between the Panthers and Saints, earned a 20.4 rating, but that was down 21 percent from last year’s Packers-Giants game, which earned a 25.9.
The other three contests all posted double-digit decreases as well. The Buffalo Bills versus the Jacksonville Jaguars in the early Sunday afternoon window posted a 17.2, down 10 percent from last year’s Miami Dolphins vs. Steelers matchup, which earned a 19.2. The game was the least-watched wild-card game on a Sunday in nearly a decade, according to Sports Media Watch.
The numbers for both Saturday games were lower year-over-year. The Tennessee Titans comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs did a 14.7, dropping 11 points from last year’s Houston Texans win over the Oakland Raiders. The Atlanta Falcons versus the Los Angeles Rams Saturday night earned a 14.9 rating, another 10 percent drop from last year’s machup between the Detroit Lions and Seahawks.
For overall viewers, early numbers indicate the Carolina Panthers against the New Orleans Saints was the most-watched of the weekend, with 31.2 million people tuning in. That was more than eight million less than Packers v. Giants, which was the fourth most-watched wild-card game ever.
The factors leading to the NFL’s declining ratings have been debated fiercely in recent months. A new online survey by Ozy Magazine indicates protests around the national anthem as well as President Trump’s response to those protests may have caused some people on both sides of the issue to stop watching. Others said health issues related to traumatic brain injury gave them reason to turn off. Whether the majority of those people will return to the fold or remain disengaged from the league remains an open question.
While the league’s long-term controversies aren’t going away any time soon, there’s reason for executives at 345 Park Avenue to anticipate at least modest ratings rebounds in the divisional playoff round. First, heavy hitters like the Steelers and New England Patriots take the field this coming weekend as well as the major-market Philadelphia Eagles making a postseason appearance for the first time in four years.
Looking ahead, we could be poised for another Steelers-Patriots AFC Championship Game. Last year, Pittsburgh-New England drew a 27.6. That too was down from the 31.8 of Patriots- Denver Broncos the year prior, but with ratings heading downhill like a Todd Gurley run, the NFL might be happy this year just to contain the damage.
[Cube image courtesy of ESPN]