Is the NFL monster, the hungriest sporting behemoth on earth, eating itself? The recent drop in TV ratings suggests so.
By Steve Brenner | 2:23 pm, November 4, 2016
A preference for seeing Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton pound each other into submission, rather than watching 250-pound linebackers get knocked unconscious, is starting to impact the viewership for professional football games. Meanwhile, more cable subscribers are cutting the cord, which also isn’t helping the NFL.
The ratings aren’t good. CBS reports a 14% drop during Thursday night NFL games. The World Series attracted higher ratings than Monday Night Football for the first time in five years.
There are undoubtedly other factors causing the viewer malaise. A lack of magic talents. Some head-scratching officiating. The myriad technology options that compete for viewer attention. Lingering political resentment from the Colin Kaepernick/National Anthem row, which generated a ‘Boycott the NFL movement,’ is probably also dampening interest in the games.
“The product on the field hasn’t been that great,” said Adam White of Front Office Sports, a publishing company that specializes in the sports business. “There is so much hype around the NBA, but the NFL seems saturated.
“They are still powerful, the highest-grossing league in the world. But the people who are viewing and the viewership are thinking: ‘Do I want to sit around for a four-hour long game, or shall I watch Netflix?’” Across the pond, the English Premier League is suffering in a similar fashion.
One response from the NFL: The league this season is for the first time streaming 10 Thursday Night Football games on Twitter.
But what else can it do to make the game more riveting for viewers, particularly younger audiences? Social media interactivity is a ripe area. While the NBA, whose ratings have increased, allow instant match highlights to spread across the Internet (as do the NHL and MLB) razor-tight regulations have handcuffed the NFL. Clips on Twitter during matches are few and far between.
“Older people with more time on their hands still watch sports on TV, but they are not a desirable audience,“ says Dave Lockton, a TV industry veteran and serial entrepreneur.
Lockton, who helped create an in-play betting market for European soccer that is now worth over $15 billion per year, has just launched a new football betting app that circumnavigates the strict gambling laws in the United States.
Users interact with football games to win prizes. Unlike the highly successful fantasy pursuits such as Draft Kings and Fan Duel—which effectively end when the action starts—WinView tries to draw players into the contest as they’re unfolding on TV.
Branded as a game of skill to keep the legal eagles happy, WinView lets you play for points as well as cash. You download the app, wait for the game to start, and then questions are thrown at you each quarter. It’s free to play.
Think Jacksonville will rush more total yards than the Titans in this quarter? Lump some points on. Will Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles complete more yards than his opposite number? It’s money-where-your-mouth-is time.
Your phone dings constantly with new scenarios to digest. It’s quite fun even for non-football fans, and WinView plans to launch baseball and basketball versions as well.
This type of game is commonplace in Europe where synchronized competitions are more popular than daily fantasy sports. In the U.S., WinView is able to circumvent gambling laws because there’s a fantasy element to it. It’s not just WinView. Chicago-based sports app Bait also seeks to recreate the conventional betting experience online for iOS.
Interactive gaming apps aren’t a foolproof way to stop the ratings slide, but they represent an intriguing start. Three weeks after WinView’s launch, Lockton has been encouraged by the response to his initiative. “I can see this having a significant impact on viewing numbers as it brings new players in,” he says. “The bullseye targets are millennials, but the surprise is how this permeates throughout the family, from younger children to parents.”
The consumption of sports has changed dramatically, and it’s Goodell and his well-heeled friends who will have to act decisively to ensure that millennials remain as in thrall to televised games as previous generations of viewers were.