The news just keeps getting worse for the NFL and their TV ratings this year. Much of the decline was blamed on the election yet the most recent Monday Night Football telecast was far off the mark from last year.
Nov 21, 2016; Mexico City, MEX; Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans fans gather outside Estadio Azteca before the international NFL Monday Night Football game. Ratings. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
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According to an article on Forbes.com, compared to Monday Night Football’s Week 11 matchup in 2015 between the Patriots and Bills, the ratings for the Houston Texans/Oakland Raiders game played in Mexico City were down by 20%. Figures like that have been coming in all season long and it’s the continuation of a trend.
It’s been popular to blame the election on the poor ratings. It’s been popular to blame reaction of fans to the Colin Kaepernick flag flap issue. The real reasons are much more complex in some areas but terribly basic in others.
The NFL under Roger Goodell has stripped much of the fun out of the game. Celebrations are penalized, games are over-officiated, rules have become more byzantine with the debate over “what is a catch” still not being clear to most fans.
Instead of a referee saying “Offsides, number 90, defense, five yard penalty, replay 3rd down,” football fans are increasingly given multiple-sentence explanations for an infraction. During last season’s AFC Championship Game between Denver and New England a penalty on a play was described by long-time ref Ed Hochuli as follows:
The pass was backward. Therefore the recovery by New England gives New England the ball. The question is the point from which the ball is released to the point that the ball is first touched or touched the ground. That was backwards. It’ll be New England’s ball. The clock stays the same. There are no timeouts charged. Additionally the defender did not touch the pass in the air.
Fans turning off
Once upon a time you were an NFL fan because your father was and his father was. You rooted for the same team generationally. The current regime has stripped so much life from the game that newer fans are becoming harder to come by. Media fragmentation hasn’t helped the issue.
Recently, on my Locked on Saints podcast I brought up an idea that I think would reenergize the game and boost ratings. Rather than stick to the current model of having a national broadcast of each NFL game, have two for each game.
Each team would have their own broadcast team with some tie to the team’s history, a former player for example, and a local media personality. Rather than give the unbiased coverage we’re used to, the coverage would be completely from a certain team’s perspective. So, for example, the New Orleans Saints might have former quarterback Bobby Hebert and local TV personality Jim Henderson calling a game. This is how it’s done in preseason games in the NFL and also how it’s done in Major League Baseball throughout the season.
Or course this could only take place after current TV contracts expire but it would, in my opinion, bring fans back. You could still do national broadcasts like Monday Night Football with one coverage team. MLB does that with nationally broadcast games as well.
Also, ditch Thursday Night Football. Going up against college games is a lose/lose for the NFL and the NCAA. Stick to Sundays and Mondays.
Bring some fun back
The NFL also needs to just loosen up. Streamline the rules. Bring the fun back on the field and in the broadcast booth. How in the broadcast booth?
How’s this for an idea? Don’t know the name of the show or if it’s still on but there was a thing in England where a soccer match would be rebroadcast and the game would be called by a fan from each team. So you’d see, a couple of days after the game, a fan from Newcastle and a fan from Liverpool in the same announcers’ booth doing the play by play. It was beyond hilarious. The shouting matches and trash talking were legendary. It was additional revenue for a game already aired. The NFL could pull off the same thing on Twitter or a similar platform if they weren’t so anti-fun.
All in all it’s incumbent on the NFL to make some major changes soon. At it’s heart football is a game. Not a product. People watch sports to decompress from a day spent dealing with rules and bosses. When a game starts to feel like work people start to move on. It’s not too late to fix it.