Think about watching football on TV for a moment. A couple of times a game, the offense will come to the line and set; the QB will start making calls and barking signals; the defense digs in. And then one player jumps the gun and flags fly from about four different directions. The error of the moment jumps out from the TV screen in such a way that only Stevie Wonder could miss it. With that imagery in your mind, consider a situation I encountered with my long-suffering wife and our houseguests from last weekend.
- It was the evening of September 29; we were driving home from dinner at a local restaurant. We passed by a house with Christmas lights adorning a tree in the front yard with a creche under that tree.
Just as in football, that situation cried out as one that has jumped the gun. In football, there would be a 5-yard penalty assessed. I have no idea how the house decorators in this case should be penalized.
A couple of years ago, the NFL went through a period where TV viewership declined. Lots of folks who like to see grand significance in things that may not have any content worthy of grand significance started to connect a few dots and then interpreted the graphic created there to mean that professional football had reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the US. Some of the points made by people who drew conclusions of that sort fit a narrative that included:
- Medical science had shown the relationship between repeated head trauma and CTE sufficiently vividly to turn off a portion of football’s fandom and that turned off fraction would only continue to grow. [Indeed, the most aggressive interpretation along this line was that there would come a time when there would not be sufficient numbers of men willing to risk their brain health by playing football to fill out the rosters of whatever was left of the NFL.]
- The social justice warriors proclaimed that Colin Kaepernick’s protest and his subsequent banishment from the NFL had put the NFL on the wrong side of history regarding police brutality.
- The game itself had worn out its welcome as advertisements and replay incidents interrupted the flow of the game to the point that millennials did not want to take the time to follow it.
There were other such interpretations; all of them sounded interesting; and obviously, all of them would need more data to confirm the picture painted by the interpreter. Fast forward to September 2019; the first quarter of the NFL regular season is “in the books” and the data from this year run counter to the gloom-and-doom scenarios painted by folks about 3 years ago. I have not yet heard any interpretation(s) for the current data; so, lest they be ignored, I will put some of it here.
The NFL’s TV ratings are up. For the first quarter of the regular season, here is how those ratings compare to last year – a year where ratings were up about 5% as compared to 2017:
- Thursday Night Football on FOX +18%
- Monday Night Football ESPN +6%
- Sunday Night Football NBC +5%
- FOX Sundays +4%
- CBS Sundays +3%
And there is more:
- Since the NFL regular season began on September 5th, of the 20 most-viewed television programs 19 of those were NFL regular season games. The only other program to make the Top 20 Most-Viewed List was one of the Democratic Presidential Candidates Debates.
- During the 2018 regular season, 46 of the Top 50 most-watched television programs were NFL games. And viewership is up this year over last year so far…
- Notwithstanding the obvious trend of “cord cutting”, more people watch more NFL football now than they ever did and the numbers seem to be increasing and not decreasing.
I have asserted before that the NFL and the NFLPA are not adversaries and ought not to view each other as such. They are, in fact, partners in the production of the most popular and the most lucrative television entertainment property in history. Those two entities are in negotiations to come up with a new CBA prior to the time when the current TV deals expire. [Aside: The Monday Night Football deal expires at the end of the 2021 season; the other network deals expire at the end of the 2022 season.] Obviously, there will be contentious issues to be resolved in the negotiations leading to a new CBA, but both sides need to recognize that the most important thing for them to do is to agree on how to divide a revenue stream that is approximately $15B today and which is likely to grow from that number starting with the next set of TV deals.
Finally, since I spent some time today talking about television programing, let me close with a comment about television by David Frost:
“Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………