NFL Commissioner Goodell: ‘We don’t think we’ve lost viewers’

Speaking publicly for the first time about his pro sports league’s sudden double-digit TV audience loss, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said a number of factors have led to the ratings decline, but he doesn’t think the league has lost popularity. 

“We don’t think we’ve lost viewers,” Goodell said in a Wednesday afternoon press conference. “When you look at ratings, you have to look a little deeper than that. It’s viewers, but also how long they’re engaging for. A lot of times, people will leave a game for whatever reason.”

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Prime-time viewership of NFL games — the most powerful audience driver in the pay-TV ecosystem right now — has been off as much as 20 percent.

Goodell ticked off a number of factors, most of which were already speculated by media pundits: two of the games with the biggest year-over-year declines went against presidential debates; the NFL Network, which has a much smaller reach than CBS, has taken over some of the rights for Thursday Night Football; and some of the games have been pretty boring.

“Everyone’s got theories,” he said. “Our ratings are something that we’ll continue to look at and try to make sure we’re doing everything, not just to get them tuned in but to get them to stay tuned in. That’s the issue.”

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"We don't think that's a factor and neither do our network partners.”

The ratings problem seems to be getting worse, not better. The combined viewership average for NBC’s Sunday Night Football and ESPN’s Monday Night Football was down 40 percent year over year. In fact, the Houston Texans’ 26-23 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts generated the lowest audience total for Sunday Night Football over the last five years. And the Arizona Cardinals’ 28-3 beatdown of the New York Jets garnered Monday Night Football’s second worst TV ratings ever

All seven NBC and ESPN prime-time NFL regular season telecasts have been down this season. 

Goodell and the NFL can take some solace in that they’re not alone. Through seven Major League Baseball league championship series games, the audience is down 8 percent.