NFL ratings have declined by roughly 12 percent this season, and to hear commissioner Roger Goodell tell it, the reasons are varied.
"It's something that I don't think there's a single reason for. I really don't. We look at all those factors," Goodell said last week, according to NFL.com. "Everyone's got theories, you guys got theories, others got theories. We work closely with our network partners. We see tremendous strength in our numbers.
"But we also know that the prime-time ratings we're seeing the most dramatic decrease. It went straight up against two very significant [presidential] debates. Another one of our prime-time games on Thursday night was on the NFL Network, as opposed to a network, which will always get a lower rating. There are a lot of factors to be considered."
According to a Seton Hall poll conducted this week, the leading factor in declining viewership is due to players not standing for the national anthem, followed closely by the presidential election. Specifically, 841 adults were asked seven questions, allowing for a response of yes, no, or don't know. The poll was conducted Oct. 24-26.
- 56 percent of respondents cited players not standing;
- 50 percent citing the distraction of the presidential campaign;
- 47 percent the controversy over the handling of domestic violence cases involving players.
On the question of domestic violence, men and women responded equally; 47 percent of men cited that as a possible reason, 46 percent of women said yes to that possibility.
Other factors included games on too many days, over-saturating the market (44%), increased interest in postseason baseball (39%), the ongoing controversy over head injuries (33%) and a decline in quality of play on the field (33%).
"There is no single factor here, no one fixable thing for the NFL to act on," said Rick Gentile, director of the poll, which is sponsored by The Sharkey Institute. "But it is somewhat remarkable that the impact of the national anthem protest seems to hold, given that the action occurs pregame and isn't even televised."
Meanwhile, Goodell says the league is working to figure out what has changed.
"We don't make excuses. ... I think you're touching at a point that I think is significant, which is consumer changes and their behavior, and the way they consume media," he said. "That's something we've been focused on for several years. It's why we've been doing more with with Snapchat and YouTube and others. And it's why we did our work with Yahoo last year. ...
"We're seeing these changes. We recognize that network television is still dominant, and we believe it's going to be dominant going forward. It's where the vast majority of our fans view our games. It's a great experience. The advertising markets are incredibly strong. I think our ratings are something that we'll continue to look at and trying to make sure we're doing everything, not just to get them to tune in but to get them to stay tuned in. That's the issue, that's what we've worked on."