T Dog’s Think Tank: What’s wrong with the NFL?

Jay Cutler fumbles again. (USA Today)

Ratings for the NFL are off this year. Why? 

Over the last few weeks, you have read about why the NFL’s ratings are declining, with answers ranging from noncompetitive matchups to national anthem protests.

Well, now it’s my turn to weigh in.

So what’s wrong with the NFL? Well, let’s start locally as the Chicago Bears continue to drive away viewers away from their television sets. The team’s 1-5 start is the worst in years, and they performed miserably in their three nationally televised appearances, becoming a national laughingstock (a status already familiar to White Sox fans.) Thursday night’s game against Green Bay has the misfortune of going up against Game 5 of the NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers, which will no doubt siphon viewers from what is supposed to be a huge rivalry game.

In addition, there are more substandard NFL teams airing in primetime – the Arizona Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Houston Texans – teams who did well last year struggling this year.

Another theory is ts year’s games are up against the Presidential campaign – the heated contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The three cable news networks have seen major increases across several dayparts – including primetime, and have drawn viewers away from other programming.

Then, there is the controversy over San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s starting in August when he refused to stand during the Star-Spangled Banner to protest police shootings and other injustices among African-Americans. Since then, several other black athletes in both college and pro ranks have joined in. There is no evidence the controversy is going away anytime soon, as Kaepernick has been named starting quarterback for the 49ers. It’ll be interesting to see how Kaepernick will be received in Chicago when the 49ers play the Bears at Soldier field on December 4 (sadly, this is the only notable game left on the Bears schedule this season because of Kapernick.)

The fashion of choice for Bears fans these days. Or those for network television.
The fashion of choice for Bears fans these days.

Other causes could be an oversaturation of games (three games a week in primetime); the concussion issue; the absence of NFL stars such as Peyton Manning (retired) and Tom Brady (suspended); and the league’s own greed problem.

Another reason is the quality of play this season hasn’t been good. In addition to the lackluster Bears game in the Chicago market last Sunday, we were also treated to a Dallas Cowboys-Green Bay Packers game on Fox where the Cowboys romped in a blowout. Wow, two XFL games for the price of one.


Given all this evidence, it is hard to pinpoint why NFL ratings are down. Perhaps the best reason is the national anthem controversy, which has sent many white conservative viewers toward for the exits. On the flipside, NFL ratings remain strong in African-American homes, though it ceded the top spot to Empire, whose ratings are more than double of NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Also, NFL teams in the nation’s largest markets – notably New York and Chicago – are struggling. Even in a loyal sports town like Chicago, fans obviously have their limits as several Bears games this year have failed to outdraw several Blackhawks Stanley Cup contests from June 2015. The Bears poor play and their reputation around the NFL and within the local fanbase of being a chicken-shit operation has caught up with them – notably their support (until recently) of Jay Cutler, who if it weren’t for Kaepernick, would be the least-liked player in the NFL among fans and players. If the Cubs win the World Series, the Bears would be the team in Chicago with the longest championship drought – 32 years.

How far the Bears have fallen? As yours truly noted on Twitter Sunday, local CBS station WBBM-TV – who carried the Jaguars-Bears game from Soldier Field, declined to do a local post-game show, instead sticking with network post-game coverage from New York, and then PBR Bull Riding.

PBR Bull Riding? Ouch. Wouldn’t be surprised if the Bull Riding outrated the Bears game.

Keep in mind in spite of all the doomsday articles, live sports’ ratings are cynical in nature. And fans continue to show up at NFL games, selling out every week as opposed to the more than half-empty ballpark at U.S. Cellular Field you’ve seen for the last few years. This debunks the national anthem theories being thrown around by right-wing columnists who generally don’t write about or care for the TV industry.

We’ll see how the ratings shake out when the baseball playoffs and the Presidential races are over. Then the debate would center on whether or not the ratings are affected by the anthem protests or the product resembling Vince McMahon’s failed football league fifteen years ago. It never ends, folks.