It’s not breaking news when you hear about falling television ratings across pretty much every network that broadcasts the National Football League. It has and continues to be a topic of debate across the industry by numerous outlets and pundits alike.
There are a number of theories out there and the answer for the steady decline is likely not a simple one.
With that being said, there are a number of influences by combination that are spelling doom for the future of football. Here are a few that we find to be most intriguing:
Social Media Restrictions
Earlier this season, the NFL sent a league wide memo instituting policy banning teams from posting video content before and during the course of NFL games. This rule is clearly extremely specific to social media platforms considering the massive growth in social media users and overall interactions over the last 5-7 years and even more so in the last 2.
If you take a look at the breakdown by league you clearly see where the NFL stacks up against some of the other sports and entertainment options. The graph below shows how far behind NFL is in terms of adapting to a growing consumer base overloaded with entertainment options.
Instead of empowering the social media teams throughout the league to engage with their given fanbases in unique and creative ways that gets lost with the NFL’s ad centric version of digital content. By comparison, during the study shown below (conducted by the team at shareablee) almost half of all likes, shares, comments, retweets and favorites across US sports and entertainment platforms belong to the NBA.
The NBA has seen success by a model that is almost in direct contrast to what the NFL is currently betting on. By the NBA relaxing restrictions on the content teams produce before, during and after games they have enabled the organizations to creatively engage with fans in a unique and more personalized/relevant way. The NBA has essentially enabled fun engagement across all social channels whereas the NFL has put a straight-jacket on fun.
Since 2014 the NBA has seen growth in total engagement (likes and comments) of over 200% across their social platforms. Admittedly, the NBA benefits from having a game that translates most favorably to short social media videos, gifs and photos (This Russell Westbrook video garnered almost 1M views in 2 days) but they have also taken the leap to invest and be “all in” on growing the league brand through the use of technology and by enabling organizational creativity. The NFL would be smart to follow.
If the discussion is domestic disputes, Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling or the reigning MVP being quoted as saying:
“At times I don’t even feel safe”
All of these issues add up, and the public has begun to take notice. It’s widely known that the NFL has a… less than favorable… public image and Roger Goodell’s likability is sure to be somewhere close to our two Presidential candidates. However, for the longest time the product was too compelling for viewers to turn away.
However, with the country’s on going debate regarding police brutality and the treatment of black and brown people in America, there has been a cloud over the NFL’s product this season.
These issues coupled with Donald Trump’s meteoric presidential rise and the overall volatility of the presidential race makes for another compelling distraction for potential NFL viewers. Donald Trump was recently quoted saying that the reason for the NFL’s ratings being “way down” was a result of
“this politics they’re finding is a rougher game than football and more exciting.. and the other reason is (Colin) Kaepernick.”
On at least one occasion this season, one of three presidential debates was held on the same night as a primetime NFL game and was broadcasted at a similar time. The debate decidedly Trumped football (Excuse the pun), and with a little over a week left until the election the NFL will see half of its season disappear before election hype has died down.
Over Saturation, Authenticity & Transparency
The NFL is desperately seeking to break into new markets and attract broader demographics (see London games) however the greatest threat to the game remains at the grassroots level. Convincing parents to allow their children to begin and/or continue, playing the game of Football.
In 2016, when you look around and examine initiatives instituted by league executives, it would be difficult to accuse them of failing to try to organically grow the brand.
Whether its games on Sunday, Monday and Thursday (Not mentioning college football on Fridays and Saturdays), Rumors of government sponsored “Acts of Patriotism”, players wearing pink gloves, shoes and socks during the month of October and the emphasis the NFL has put on youth football initiatives in the last 5 years alone. It’s clear that the NFL has never been more profitable, despite the number of challenging issues facing the brand and the game of football.
There is obviously tangible risk in the water that NFL leadership must carefully guide its brand through. Over saturation, presidential interest, social media restrictions and increased skepticism about the sport (and executives whom run it) are just a few of those risky topics.
It’s a safe bet that behind close doors NFL execs are discussing a few, if not all of the aforementioned challenges, the question becomes: What will they do about it?
Your guess is as good as ours!