The NFL captured a lot of media buzz in the 2016 regular season – and most of it was negative. This season has seen a lack of starting talent, players protesting during the national anthem, and officials throwing an inordinate amount of penalty flags. Worst of all for the NFL, the TV audience is down.
According to ESPN, “television viewership of NFL games has dropped by an average of eight percent during the 2016 regular season.” This equates to 1.4 million fewer people watching the average football telecast compared to last season. Is it due to the aforementioned dearth of talent, protests, and officiating issues? Or is it something deeper, perhaps signifying something more ominous to the future of the NFL? Could it be that changed America’s media consumption habits have had a negative effect on TV football viewing?
Americans don’t consume media or watch TV like we did in the ‘80s or ‘90s. And we shouldn’t, because the media landscape has changed drastically over the past twenty years – even ten years – even one year!
I can remember football Sundays from my youth like they were yesterday (maybe that’s because I still sit at the kids’ table for holiday family dinners). Growing up in the 90’s, Sunday family football gatherings were a tradition. Food was provided in abundance, seats on the couch were hard to come by, and sometimes a line would form for the bathroom – especially during commercial breaks. NFL games used to be so action-packed that viewers would fear moving from their seat lest they miss a second of the game. Now, a 60-minute football game takes nearly four hours to watch from beginning to end. The noticeable volume of commercials in addition to the officials’ penchant for penalty flags have slowed down the game and as such, decreased the level of excitement of watching professional football.
In September 2016, my colleague Jeremy Kusnir wrote a blog to announce the premier of Thursday Night Football on Twitter. In his blog, Kusnir explains that the reasoning behind the NFL’s selection of Twitter over other streaming platforms was due to the level of engagement on this platform. “There is a massive amount of NFL-related conversation happening on Twitter during our games and tapping into that audience, in addition to our viewers on broadcast and cable, will insure Thursday Night Football is seen on an unprecedented number of platforms this season,” said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Based on recent articles, Amazon is trying to finagle a way to get in on the mix as well.
With all the media platforms available today, our brains have been rewired to the new ways that we can consume and react to media – especially the younger generations. The new platforms affect not only the way viewers engage with program content, but advertising content too. Viewers no longer want to sit passively while they get served ads – they want to actively engage with them. We live in a multi-screen world where consumers can access content from social networks with their peers in addition to trusted media. When given the choice, we choose an ad-free, on-demand environment. So… did the NFL audience decline because its main media platform – broadcast television – is losing ground to new media?
Contrary to popular belief, traditional TV is still by far the preferred way to consume video, across all demos. The graph below shows that all adults and all adult demographic groups still spend the most time daily with TV as compared to PCs, smartphones, or tablets.
But you can see TV’s dominance slips among the younger demographic groups. How do marketers get their messages in front of the right audience and make an impact – especially during a time when even NFL television ratings have dropped?
One answer — multi-media campaigns. Augment the traditional TV with online video.
If the mighty NFL has begun looking for alternative platforms to deliver content, you know it must be time for all marketers to do likewise.