ESPN’s Darren Rovell reported Thursday that television viewership for NFL games this past season dropped by an average of eight percent from last season. A typical game drew 1.4 million less viewers (16.5 million, down from 17.9 million) than the 2015 season.
Prime time NFL games were those that saw the most stark declines in eyeballs. ESPN’s Monday Night Football and NBC’s Sunday Night Football saw declines of 12 and 10 percent, respectively, in total viewers.
The daytime games broadcast by Fox and CBS were not down as much, but they still saw declines. Fox saw a six percent drop, while CBS experienced a seven percent dip.
Much has been made of the relative lack of viewership for the NFL all season long, and league commissioner Roger Goodell said in an interview with ESPN last month that the lead-up to the presidential election last November was likely the primary reason.
Goodell may have a valid point. The first nine weeks of the NFL season, which took place before the election itself on November 8th, saw viewership drop by a whopping 14 percent from the 2015 season.
Presidential elections have a history of negatively affecting NFL viewership. According to Rovell, NFL ratings were down 10 percent in 2000 (the year of Bush vs. Gore) and six percent in 1996 (Clinton vs. Dole).
In the eight weeks following the election, though, things started to get back to normal. Viewership was down just one percent over the second half of the campaign.
Rovell believes America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, played a part in reviving national interest in the sport. Dallas, which stormed to a 13-3 regular season record, appeared in four straight prime time games starting on Thanksgiving night when they defeated the Washington Redskins.
That contest alone brought in more than 35 million viewers nationwide, which was the most for any single regular season NFL matchup since the 1995 season.
The league did not want to take any chances and just assume the election was the main reason for the drop in national interest.
Rovell reports that in Week 16 the league and its broadcast associates adjusted the timing of certain commercial breaks as a way of changing the pace of the game for viewers at home.
While results of the testing have not yet been released to the public, the pacing of NFL games has been a source of consternation among fans for years.
The league will hope its resent rating resurgence will extend into the postseason, which gets underway this weekend.
The festivities kick off on Saturday afternoon when the Houston Texans play host to the Oakland Raiders. That game will be followed by a tilt between the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks that night.
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play host to the Miami Dolphins before the New York Giants head to Lambeau Field to face the Green Bay Packers in the afternoon tilt.
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