Theories abound as to why the NFL is seeing a precipitous drop in ratings this season. Some blame the player protests during the National Anthem. Some think that it is due to the election and debates being scheduled on game days. Some believe it is backlash for Tom Brady's suspension for Deflate-gate. And some point to the non-TV ways to watch the games now--which wouldn't be counted by Nielsen ratings.
While all of those may contribute in small ways to a ratings dip, I like to think that the more Americans are exposed to the modern NFL, the more they realize it's a lousy product. All you had to do was try to watch last night's game between Arizona and San Francisco to figure out that quarterbacking in the league has never been worse. And yet, coaches keep going with offensive systems that require the quarterback to carry the load--dooming us to games featuring 12-punts in the first half. When you consider that there are really only seven or eight QB's in the league right now that would rank as "above average" in historical comparison--that means a whole lot of crappy games--just like America "enjoyed" last night.
That's not to say that there weren't bad teams, bad quarterbacks and bad games in the 1970's and 80's--when football was at its best in terms of quality of play. But back then, Arizona-San Francisco would have just been a score on the "Ten Minute Ticker", or a box score in the Monday newspaper--and maybe one play from the game would be featured in Howard Cosell's halftime highlight package during Monday Night Football. It would not have been a "primetime matchup". There was no Red Zone Channel to switch to it if either team had actually made it across midfield in the first half. And ESPN wouldn't have a five minute highlight package to play all night and the next day.
And you cannot underestimate the impact fantasy sports has on the NFL. As you can tell by rules that only benefit scoring, the league has sold it's soul to the nerds that play in four fantasy leagues and bet weekly in Draft Kings. Fantasy sports used to mean that you would watch stink-bomb games because "your quarterback" or "your receiver" were playing--and you wanted to see if they were scoring points. But as I witnessed in the stands at the 16th green at the Ryder Cup last Sunday, everyone now gets those stats sent as "alerts" to their smartphones. That means no more watching Blaine Gabbert throw nine consecutive incomplete passes just to know if Larry Fitzgerald caught a touchdown.
Will the NFL have to worry about their ratings falling to the level of Women's World Cup qualifying matches? No. But unless someone in the tower in New York takes a look at the product on the field instead of all the billboards and TV ads surrounding the games--more and more viewers will start tuning out.