The NFL has endured criticism about concussions, allegations about domestic violence among its players, and Tom Brady's DeflateGate, and yet the viewers kept coming back to the networks for more gameplay every Sunday (and Monday and Thursday and Saturday). Until now, per the Wall Street Journal, which reports on the league's slipping ratings on major TV networks during the first four weeks of this season. Bloomberg notes that Nielsen data shows a 14% drop in prime-time viewership in the 18-to-49 age bracket. And the networks aren't the only ones flummoxed by the seemingly sudden decline. "We're scratching our heads," says a media buyer for an agency whose clients include GM, who adds that it's "probably being caused by a confluence of events."
Those factors could include the hyperfocus on this year's presidential election, the absence so far of big-name players like Brady and Tony Romo, and the fact that "cord-cutters" may keep up with games via other methods other than on TV. What the NFL's media head doesn't think has any bearing on ratings: hubbub over protests held during the national anthem, despite a WCNC-cited poll suggesting about one-third of Americans may decline to watch because of this. Either way, Nancy Armour writes for USA Today Sports, "there's no need to write the league's obituary" based on flagging ratings alone, noting that attendance and sales of NFL-licensed apparel are on the rise from last year. "Worry about the future of the country," she writes. "The NFL's going to be just fine."