TV ratings for the NFL are down 10% from last season. Jason Gay of the Wall Street Journal thinks one reason may be that the quality of the game has dropped:
There are a lot of football games I watch where I wonder if the teams were assembled in the stadium corridor 15 minutes before the game. There are too many offenses with only a vague familiarity with a complete pass, too many quarterbacks found on eBay, too many defenses that are defensive in name only. There are coaches who seem like as if they were hired after winning a call-in FM radio contest.
I worry the great football that’s out there—and it is out there, like those virtuoso Patriots—is getting overwhelmed by the gruel. Last month, the Journal’s former NFL columnist, Kevin Clark, now at The Ringer, wrote a persuasive piece about the league’s diminishing game quality, citing, among other factors, the NFL’s current labor situation and how teams have become increasingly dependent on younger, cheaper, less capable talent.
At the same time, the product feels thinly spread, less of an event. Thursday night may be conducive to post-work margaritas but it does not appear to be conducive to high-quality football. Elsewhere, NBC’s Sunday Night Football has squished the glamour and urgency of Monday Night Football, which has started to feel like ESPN’s Leftover Turkey Sandwich Game.
One other factor he doesn’t cite is the growing number of people who only watch the NFL Red Zone channel, getting just the highlights of games in-progress, without having to sit through the boring, go-nowhere plays. I know several guys who are in weekly fantasy leagues who only care about the players on the team they’ve created, not the team designations the NFL uses. For them, it’s not about loyalty to the representatives of any single city, but to the statistics of the men who make up their personal roster. They’re never going to watch a Bears-Buccaneers game in its entirety. For them, Red Zone is all they need.