Published on January 6, 2017 by Matt Azemar  

The viewership numbers for NFL games this 2016 season have been lower than last year’s, as a whole. Why is that the case?

There are multiple speculations.

The Kaepernick Effect

Some think the decrease in game viewership is due to players kneeling during the national anthem (started by 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick) to protest police shootings of unarmed minorities. To many Americans, this action is viewed as disrespectful and insulting to the country itself and especially the men and women of our armed forces. These feelings have turned into online campaigns featuring #BoycottNFL, and a large number of viewers abstaining from watching NFL football games. A national survey, by Rasmussen Reports, found that 32% of adults said they were less likely to watch an NFL game because of players protesting during the national anthem.

The Refs, Commercials and Over Saturation

We all remember the snafu with the replacement refs in 2012, but this year Monday Night Football announcer, Sean McDonough, pointed to referees’ over-officiating and excessive use of penalty flags as causing many games to become unmatchable.

“The way this game is being officiated, it’s not something anybody wants to watch” McDonough said while announcing the Jets vs Cardinals Monday Night Football game.

Combine flag happy refs with excessive commercials and you create a game that lasts far too long and is undesirable to watch.

Over saturation of the sport can also be attributed to decreases in NFL viewership.

Two years ago Mark Cuban predicted that the NFL would “implode” due to over saturation. After the NFL announced they were expanding their TV package Cuban (@mcuban) said, “They’re trying to take over every night of TV… at some point the people get sick of it… just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way.”

The Presidential Race

Out of all the potential reasons why NFL viewership has decreased this season, I think that the presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was the greatest factor.

The NFL suffered viewership losses in all of their showings (Sunday Night Football, Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football, Early Double Headers, Single Headers, and Late Double Headers).

Monday Night Football (MNF) suffered the most out of any other game time with 75% of the 16 games experiencing fewer viewers than the same time the previous season.

Late Double Headers (LDH) suffered the second most with 72% of their 18 double headers experiencing fewer viewers than the previous season.

Sunday Night Football (SNF) suffered the next most with 70% of their 17 games experiencing fewer viewers than the previous season.

Single Headers (SH) suffered the fourth most with 62% of their 16 games experiencing fewer viewers than the previous season.

Thursday Night Football (TNF) did better than many might have expected, but still suffered losses, with 57% of their 14 games experiencing fewer viewers than the previous season. Suggesting that the color rush uniforms for TNF did not help viewership.

Early Double Headers (EDH) brought up the rear with the best viewership percentages. However, over half (55%) of their 18 games still experienced fewer viewers than the previous season.

Many of these decreases in viewership during game times can be attributed to the 2016 Presidential Race. Game times like MNF, SNF, TNF, and EDH all experienced consistent viewership decreases from the beginning of the seasons all the way up to the Presidential Election on November 8.

However, starting week 10, just after Trump won the election, these game times saw increases in their viewership.

Monday Night Football had 3 out of their last 7 games experience viewership losses versus 9 out of 9 games during the election.

Sunday Night Football had 3 of their last 8 games experience viewership losses compared to 9 out of 9 games during the election.

Thursday Night Football had only 1 out of their last 6 games experience viewership losses, versus 7 out of 8 games during the election.

Lastly, Early Double Headers had only 3 out of their last 9 games experience viewership losses, compared to 7 out of 9 games during the election.

2016 NFL TV Ratings
WindowGameNetRtg.+/-Vwrs.+/-Strm.18-49
DH = Doubleheader; Single = Singleheader

WEEK SEVENTEEN

SNF GB/DET NBC 13.0 -6% 23.8M -2%
Late DH NYG/WSH (76%) FOX 12.3 +3% 22.4M +7% 7.4
Early DH DAL/PHI (79%) FOX 9.65 +7% 17.0M +13%
Early DH MIA/NE (61%) CBS 9.2 -18% 16.6M -11%
Late DH Regional action CBS 6.8 -34% 12.1M -31%
Week seventeen numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports

WEEK SIXTEEN

** TNF aired on NFL Network alone last year

SNF KC/DEN NBC 10.6 +2% 21.4M +20% 81K 6.4
MNF DET/DAL ESPN 10.1 +7% 18.6M +18% 260K 5.8
Early DH GB/MIN (71%) FOX 10.0 +8% 18.4M +13%
TNF** NYG/PHI NBC, NFLN 10.6 +194% 17.9M +154% 350K 5.1
Late DH TB/NO (66%) FOX 8.1 -48% 15.4M -44%
Special PIT/BAL NFLN 6.5 no gm. 14.8M no gm. 4.5
Single Regional action CBS 7.7 -25% 14.2M -19%
Special CIN/HOU NFLN 3.2 -32% 6.3M -23% 1.9
Week sixteen numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NFL, NBC Sports, ESPN

WEEK FIFTEEN

** TNF aired on NFL Network alone last year

Late DH NE/DEN (83%) CBS 14.3 -2% 25.0M even
SNF TB/DAL NBC 13.6 +30% 24.1M +33% 8.1
Single DET/NYG (48%) FOX 10.8 -26% 18.7M -25%
Early DH Regional action CBS 8.8 +28% 15.0M +33%
TNF** LA/SEA NBC, NFLN 8.8 +132% 14.7M +144% 321K 4.3
MNF CAR/WSH ESPN 6.8 +1% 11.2M +3% 201K 3.6
Special NYJ/MIA NFLN 2.5 -42% 4.4M -41% 1.3
Week fifteen numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports, ESPN

WEEK FOURTEEN

** TNF aired on NFL Network alone last year

SNF DAL/NYG NBC 14.9 +21% 26.5M +26% 208K 8.7
Late DH SEA/GB (67%) FOX 14.4 -13% 25.3M -13%
Single Regional action CBS 11.2 +3% 19.1M +3%
TNF** OAK/KC NBC, NFLN 10.5 +91% 17.4M +99% 417K 5.6
MNF BAL/NE ESPN 7.8 +5% 12.9M +12% 253K 4.2
Early DH WSH/PHI (68%) FOX 7.5 -16% 12.3M -19%
Week fourteen numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports

WEEK THIRTEEN

Late DH NYG/PIT (85%) FOX 14.6 -10% 25.4M -11%
TNF DAL/MIN NBC, NFLN 12.8 +16% 21.8M +22% 479K 6.8
Single Regional action CBS 10.8 +6% 18.5M +8%
SNF CAR/SEA NBC 10.2 -8% 17.8M -7% 6.1
Early DH DET/NO (37%) FOX 7.3 -22% 12.2M -21%
MNF IND/NYJ ESPN 5.0 -43% 8.1M -43% 157K 2.6
Week thirteen numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports

WEEK TWELVE

Special WSH/DAL FOX 14.5 +1% 35.1M +8% 11.3
Special MIN/DET CBS 13.0 +6% 27.6M +9%
Late DH CAR/OAK (63%) CBS 13.2 -14% 23.5M -12% 6.9
Special IND/PIT NBC 10.1 -27% 20.9M -25% 6.9
SNF KC/DEN NBC 10.7 -27% 18.4M -27% 6.2
Single SEA/TB (39%) FOX 9.8 -20% 16.8M -18% 5.1
MNF GB/PHI ESPN 7.8 +20% 13.1M +29% 254K 4.2
Early DH Regional action CBS 7.6 +27% 12.8M +31% 3.6
Week twelve numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider, ESPN, Nielsen

WEEK ELEVEN

** TNF aired on NFL Network alone last year

Late DH PHI/SEA (78%) CBS 13.6 -12% 24.4M -11%
SNF GB/WSH NBC 10.8 +1% 18.7M +4% 6.2
Early DH BAL/DAL (72%) CBS 10.2 +26% 17.6M +28%
Single CHI/NYG (30%) FOX 8.4 -19% 14.3M -18%
TNF** NO/CAR NBC, NFLN 8.1 +93% 13.3M +101% 305K 4.2
MNF HOU/OAK (Mexico) ESPN 6.9 -22% 11.8M -17% 240K 4.0
Week eleven numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports Group Press Box

WEEK TEN

Late DH DAL/PIT (92%) FOX 16.4 +1% 28.9M +2%
SNF NE/SEA NBC 12.7 +11% 22.5M +16% 189K 7.7
Early DH ATL/PHI (44%) FOX 9.4 +11% 15.9M +13%
Single Regional action CBS 7.8 -33% 13.2M -33%
MNF CIN/NYG ESPN 6.7 -13% 10.7M -12% 234K 3.6
TNF BAL/CLE NFLN 3.5 -27% 5.7M -25% 2.0
Week ten numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider

WEEK NINE

Late DH IND/GB (87%) CBS 11.7 -18% 20.2M -16%
Single DAL/CLE (31%) FOX 11.6 -7% 20.2M -4%
SNF DEN/OAK NBC 10.4 -24% 18.3M -20% 6.6
Early DH Regional action CBS 6.9 -15% 11.3M -14%
MNF BUF/SEA ESPN 6.9 -5% 11.3M -2% 241K 3.8
TNF ATL/TB NFLN 3.6 -35% 5.8M -34% 2.1
Week nine numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider, ESPN

WEEK EIGHT

** TNF aired on CBS last year

Late DH GB/ATL FOX 13.1 -23% 22.7M -23%
SNF PHI/DAL NBC 10.2 -22% 18.0M -22% 6.5
Single Regional action CBS 9.5 +13% 16.2M +15%
Early DH SEA/NO (64%) FOX 7.7 -24% 12.8M -23%
MNF MIN/CHI ESPN 6.4 -18% 10.5M -16% 199K 3.5
Special WSH/CIN (London) FOX 5.5 +4% 8.7M +4%
TNF** JAX/TEN NFLN 3.2 -71% 5.1M -71% 1.8
Week eight numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider

WEEK SEVEN

** Compared to streaming game last year

Late DH NE/PIT CBS 12.6 -13% 21.7M -11%
SNF SEA/AZ NBC 10.2 -16% 17.7M -14% 6.0
Single MIN/PHI (46%) FOX 10.1 -13% 16.9M -12%
TNF GB/CHI CBS, NFLN 8.6 -18% 14.2M -17% 4.5
Early DH Regional action CBS 7.0 -11% 11.3M -9%
MNF HOU/DEN ESPN 6.7 -14% 11.2M -8% 236K 3.7
Special** NYG/LA (London) NFLN 2.4 3.7M +125%
Week seven numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider

WEEK SIX

Late DH DAL/GB (86%) FOX 15.8 +9% 28.0M +12%
Single Regional action CBS 10.2 -4% 17.2M -4%
TNF DEN/SD CBS, NFLN 8.7 -6% 14.5M -2% 4.7
SNF IND/HOU NBC 8.1 -38% 13.6M -40% 4.9
Early DH PHI/WSH (39%) FOX 7.7 -29% 13.2M -28%
MNF NYJ/AZ ESPN 5.2 -40% 8.4M -40% 200K 3.0
Week six numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider

WEEK FIVE

** SNF aired opposite presidential debate

Late DH CIN/DAL (80%) CBS 12.1 -20% 21.3M -18%
Single ATL/DEN (43%) FOX 9.4 -14% 16.5M -9%
SNF** NYG/GB NBC 9.3 -21% 16.6M -15% 5.9
Early DH Regional action CBS 9.0 +8% 15.2M +12%
TNF AZ/SF CBS, NFLN 7.4 -22% 12.1M -20% 4.1
MNF TB/CAR ESPN 5.6 -27% 9.1M -26% 214K 3.3
Week five numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider

WEEK FOUR

** TNF aired on CBS last year

Late DH DAL/SF (84%) FOX 13.1 -13% 22.7M -12%
SNF KC/PIT NBC 10.3 -27% 18.1M -25% 116K 6.7
Single Regional action CBS 9.4 -2% 16.4M +4%
MNF NYG/MIN ESPN 8.0 -11% 13.2M -9% 262K 4.7
Early DH SEA/NYJ (43%) FOX 6.7 -14% 11.2M -13%
TNF** MIA/CIN NFLN 4.8 -59% 7.9M -59% 3.0
Special IND/JAX (London) CBS 4.8 -25% 7.7M -22%
Week four numbers from Programming Insider, ShowBuzz Daily

WEEK THREE

** MNF aired opposite presidential debate

Late DH PIT/PHI (52%) CBS 12.6 -2% 22.0M -1% 7.1
SNF CHI/DAL NBC 11.7 -11% 20.6M -7% 125K 7.6
Single WSH/NYG (31%) FOX 11.1 +3% 19.2M +5%
TNF HOU/NE CBS, NFLN 10.6 +1% 17.5M +4% 398K 6.1
Early DH Regional action CBS 8.0 -13% 13.1M -13%
MNF** ATL/NO ESPN 4.9 -41% 8.0M -40% 209K 3.1
Week three numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, Programming Insider, NBC Sports, ESPN, CBS/NFL Network

WEEK TWO

SNF GB/MIN NBC 12.7 -16% 22.8M -14% 202K 8.2
Late DH IND/DEN (74%) CBS 12.2 -21% 21.4M -21% 7.0
Single DAL/WSH (36%) FOX 11.0 +12% 19.2M +15%
TNF NYJ/BUF CBS, NFLN 9.5 -26% 15.4M -27% 314K 5.4
Early DH Regional action CBS 8.5 -8% 14.4M -6%
MNF PHI/CHI ESPN 7.3 -10% 12.1M -3% 295K 4.5
Week two numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports, ESPN, CBS/NFL Network

WEEK ONE

Late DH NYG/DAL (90%) FOX 15.5 +15% 27.5M +18%
Kickoff CAR/DEN NBC 14.6 -10% 25.2M -8% 278K 9.4
SNF NE/AZ NBC 13.1 -15% 23.1M -14% 196K 8.4
Single Regional action CBS 9.3 -20% 16.0M -20%
Early DH GB/JAX (34%) FOX 9.2 +2% 15.8M +6%
MNF PIT/WSH ESPN 7.7 -9% 13.0M -4% 306K 4.8
MNF LA/SF ESPN 6.2 -30% 10.3M -28% 308K 4.2
Week one numbers from ShowBuzz Daily, NBC Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports
Written by:
Matt Azemar
General Editor: Macy Marin

Citations