Prime-time NFL games on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday have lost more than a fifth of their viewership on average this season. Sally Jenkins, who sees professional football as the purest form of reality television, says the reason why is obvious. "Viewers don't especially like the stories they're watching," she writes in the Washington Post. Other explanations, such as the election, the viewing habits of millennials, and ever-increasing entertainment options, don't hold water; both the NBA and MLB are seeing increased ratings over the past year. Instead, Jenkins argues that "the NFL has ruined the flow of its on-field stories while experiencing a spate of deeply negative stories off the field."
Those negative stories—concussions, domestic violence, Deflategate, etc.—have been widely covered. But there are problems on the field, too. It starts with too many mediocre or outright bad teams, Jenkins writes. Eighteen teams are .500 or below and another five are just 4-3. "In other words, 23 teams are not must-see TV," Jenkins says. Meanwhile, seemingly nonstop flags and commercials "make a PBS series seem fast-moving with a clearer story line." Furthermore, the NFL is penalizing celebrations at a greater clip, which is "sucking away dynamism and rendering [the game] joyless." But that's what happens when you focus on brand over the game. Jenkins argues all of that adds up to reality television that is "less appealing and more disturbing." Read the full piece here.