On Thursday, my colleague Brad Slager dropped a piece on reports of some very bad numbers for the sports world that have nothing to do with how many eyeballs are glued to the screen. He highlighted a new Gallup poll which shows that, across the board, whatever their political bent, Americans’ interest in watching sporting events is way down. And with a nod to last night’s NFL kickoff, Brad hinted that the league “should be paying close attention” to where fans’ heads are at.
Unfortunately, the National Football League didn’t get the ratings they hoped to start off the 2020 season. Thursday night’s Chiefs-Texans game netted NBC 19.3 million viewers; The number goes up to 20.3 million, “[w]hen data from NBC Sports Digital and NFL Digital platforms are added,”but as Deadline noted, it’s an 11% drop from the 2019 season opener.
But if they depend on the mainstream media’s coverage of the drop in viewership to decipher why, they’ll likely stay in the dark.
You don’t need to look much further than the url to see what a publication like Deadline thinks the problem is… “https://deadline.com/2020/09/nfl-ratings-down-season-kickoff-kansas-city-chiefs-coronavirus-houston-texans-nbc-1234575251/.” But it gets even more obvious when you read the article itself. You have to wade through 13 paragraphs (an afternoon update of eight paragraphs stacked on top of the first five of the morning’s story) until there’s a mention of what happened pre-game. Our Nick Arama filled you in on fans booing the social justice schtick. (SEE: Chiefs and Texans Pre-Game ‘Moment of Unity’ Gets Booed by Fans)
Deadline’s piece goes on to say that the TV networks still have high hopes that fans starved of live sports action will tune in starting Sunday for some usually-popular match-ups; They have their fingers crossed that Saints stalwart QB Drew Brees competing against former New England Patriots Super Bowl MVP (now-Tampa Bay Buccaneers) quarterback Tom Brady in New Orleans will entice fans.
They add, practically breathlessly:
….[T]here’s the LA Rams vs the Dallas Cowboys that very evening on Sunday Night Football too in an audience-less stadium in the smoggy City of Angels. Big drama, and big teams, especially the Cowboys, usually equal big numbers for the NFL and the networks.
There’s that word again — usually. Variety reported that right about now is when the networks usually start their fall shows, which would normally siphon off some viewers. And every sport now has live games going on, including play-offs and conference finals in the NBA and NHL, respectively. But everything else up against the game, besides “Big Brother,” was a repeat.
There will be something different about one of Sunday’s football contests, though. Sports Business Journal reporter John Ourand told NBC Sports on Thursday the afternoon Lions versus Bears game will feature virtual fans in the stadium — Fox is the only network whose sports division is planning to do that this season, by the way; the only reason NBC isn’t doing it on SNF, they said, is the expense and logistics of making it work from 25 different camera angles.
Here’s the issue, though: Whatever gimmicks the networks and the sports teams try to lure fans back, there are thousands who have permanently tuned out because they chose to kneel to the radical, Black Lives Matter social justice and anti-police agenda. I’m not sure what, if anything, the NFL could do to win those folks back.