The NFL season is “half-over”; so, there is a sufficient sample size available to look at how the NFL is doing on TV in 2022. There is a two-part answer to that question:
- The average audience for an NFL game is down 4% as compared to last year.
- Since the start of the 2022 NFL season on September 8th, NFL telecasts have drawn the 38 largest audiences and 47 of the “Top 50” television programs.
Many reports see the presence of Thursday Night Football on Amazon Prime Video as the explanation for that 4% decline. Last year, those games were available on NFL Network – – which is available in about 72 million homes in the US – – and on FOX and on Prime Video which provided a greater “reach” for those Thursday games than exists this year with the streaming service alone. Even with that “reduced availability” the average audience for a regular season NFL game in 2022 has been 16.2 million viewers.
Thursday games last season drew an average of 12.6 million viewers; this year Thursday games average only 10.0 million viewers. But even considering that significant decline, there is good news for the NFL in the numbers. Surveys say that the presence of the games via streaming has attracted a much younger audience; that is good news for advertisers and therefore good news for the NFL in the long run. Surveys say that the average age for a Thursday night viewer is 46 years old and the average age for a viewer of a game on network TV is 54 years old.
Folks on “the business side” of the NFL understandably have a bounce in their step about now; their product is broadly consumed, and they are engaging their “audience of the future”. Such is not quite the atmosphere surrounding folks on “the business side” of MLB. The TV ratings for the recently completed World Series were bad when you look at the numbers with internal comparisons.
- This year was the second worst TV ratings ever for the World Series. Only the pandemic-shortened 202 season had a World Series with a smaller audience.
[Aside: The World Series has been on TV since 1947; obviously there were not that many TV sets available in 1947 so I do not know how far back in history one goes to make modern numbers comparisons here.]
- Game 6 – – the deciding game this year – – drew a smaller audience than the college football game between Georgia and Tennessee.
- The last three World Series account for the three lowest audience totals and this year’s average audience for the World Series was smaller than the average audience for the NBA Finals.
There is a nugget of good TV audience news for MLB execs about now. It may not have carried over into the World Series, but the divisional rounds of the MLB playoffs this year drew the largest audiences in the past five seasons. If someone has determined how or why that was the case, I have not found it.
Those television numbers probably give energy to the folks in MLB who want to change a few rules to energize the product. Next year there will be a few changes:
- A pitch clock will be in effect. That has been the case in minor league baseball for several years now and it does keep the game moving.
- Larger bases – theoretically – will increase base stealing attempts. If that actually happens, that means more action in the game.
- “The shift” will be reined in a bit. Presumably, that will cut down on home run swings which will cut down on strikeouts which will put the ball in play more often.
I hope all those initiatives achieve their desired results; I am glad to see that MLB is willing to depart from tradition just a bit to try to spice things up a bit. I have four more suggestions for MLB to consider:
- Ditch the “ghost runner” in extra inning games. Yes, the “ghost runner” has reduced the number of marathon games (14 innings and longer) but those are games that should have an audience on the edge of its seat. I think the “ghost runner” does at least as much harm as it does good.
- Reduce the number of teams in the playoffs from 12 (this year) to 8 in future years. Yes, I know that would have eliminated the Phillies from the playoffs this year and they made it to the World Series. The problem is that the 12-team field extends the playoff schedule to a month; that is too long a period to maintain interest and there are too many playoff games making each playoff game more like an ”occurrence” than an ”event”.
- If cutting back on the number of teams in the playoffs is unacceptable, then cut back the number of games in the regular season. I think a 144-game schedule would allow for plenty of time to sort out the playoff teams while providing a few more off-days for teams in the middle of the season and a way to avoid ridiculous baseball weather games in early April and/or early November.
- To try to reach a broader audience, have a Game of the Week on TV on Saturday afternoons at least from June to September if not longer.
Finally, let me tie a ribbon around my suggestions for MLB above by citing this observation by Thomas Edison:
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………