Is the NFL in a public relations crisis? Sunday’s viewership ratings for the exhibition scrimmage known as the ‘Pro Bowl’ does not give strong evidence of that. according to Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated, the game pulled in 8.6 million viewers between its broadcasts on both ESPN and on ABC.
That is not only up somewhat significantly from last season, and even more significantly from the season prior, it is, as he put into context, a high enough number that would place it seventh as the most-watched if it were a regular season college football game.
To put that more clearly, as I know I don’t always express myself as clearly as I would like, the Pro Bowl drew in more viewers than all but six college football games this past season, bowl games excepted. That is fairly significant.
In spite of the fact that many are relishing any report they can get their hands on that suggests that the NFL’s ratings are in any kind of a tailspin, the reality is that far fewer people are turning away than this segment would like to believe.
That said, there is a large number of both current and former fans, as well as those who were never interested in the game in the first place, who have in recent years urged people to ‘boycott’ the NFL for a variety of reasons, on both sides of the spectrum. The most popular call for a boycott has been in response to players participating in protests during the national anthem prior to games by taking a knee, raising a fist, sitting down, locking arms, praying, etc.
It is true that ratings, overall, have been down for the NFL, but that discussion has to be placed in a broader context, in which the reality that television viewership has been down across the board as many people, particularly a younger subset, have elected to go without television, or with less of it, or without cable, etc.
As Pro Football Talk wrote about back in October, “the NFL’s ratings have declined less than the rest of network television”, indicating that, at the time, the league’s ratings were down five percent, while the rest of network television was down eight percent. This would actually indicate that they are doing just fine.
The site, however, also cautioned this year’s Pro Bowl viewership, making sure to note that this was the first ever simulcast of the game on both networks. The game has previously been shown independently on either network. This year is was on both, which would naturally seem likely to improve ratings.
Still, it did increase its ratings by 28 percent from the previous season, which, as I mentioned previously, was already an improvement from the previous year. No matter how many networks air the game, it is still significant that the NFL was able to get nearly nine million people to watch a game that literally doesn’t matter.