The NFL, which found itself at the center of political and medical discussions throughout 2017, saw its ratings drop by a larger percentage than they dropped in 2016, according to USA Today.
The overall average audience for NFL games dropped 10 percent in 2017, after dropping 8 percent in 2016.
The average minute audience for NFL broadcasts dropped from 16.5 million in 2016 to 14.9 million in 2017.
CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN all had smaller audiences in 2017, and CBS suffered the worst decline at 11.2 percent. NBC dropped 10.4 percent, Fox 9.1 percent, and ESPN 7.7 percent.
Down, but not out
Despite the downward trend, NFL games remain overwhelmingly popular television events. Thirty-three out of the top 50 TV programs since the NFL regular season began in September have been NFL games.
NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” is currently on pace to be the most-watched prime time show for the seventh consecutive year, and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” is still king among males ages 18-49 every week.
Off the field issues
The NFL has a long way to fall before it faces any serious issues. It’s still wildly popular and profitable. But off-the-field storylines have turned some fans off.
It could be the players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police violence against minorities, which President Donald Trump condemned early in the season.
Colin Kaepernick, who started those protests, has filed a grievance claiming the league blackballed him. The president of the Baltimore Ravens blames the protests for declining attendance at home games.
Or, it could be the increasing amount of information the public is getting about the potentially devastating impact of concussions on the life spans of players. Research continues to progress, showing that players could be taking years off their lives to play the game they love.
Former Pro Bowl running back Larry Johnson has publicly stated that he believes he has a degenerative brain disease from playing football, and often battles urges to harm himself and others as a result.
Regardless of the issue, it would likely be to the league’s benefit if the focus gets back to the competition on the field, rather than all the issues surrounding it.