Despite a 3% increase in ratings for Monday Night Football on ESPN, the NFL's overall ratings this fall are down 2% from last season and 3% from 2010. However, ratings are up 18% overall from 2008, signifying that the league is still doing great at the end of the day... just not as good as they've done the last two seasons.
As we still wait for the final ratings from Week 15 to roll in, the national Sunday telecasts have featured more weeks with declines (eight) than gains (six) in the ratings. While it's not a good trend, it's not quite alarming either. The entire television industry is down and the NFL's drops are significantly less than competitors.
I don't think there will be much of a gain in the final two weeks of the season, due to the AFC's playoff picture being nearly completed and the NFC looking like a giant mess of mediocrity for the wild card spots despite some large markets being involved.
There isn't one real factor to point at for the slight dip in ratings, but the infusion of technology probably has a lot to do with it. With the popularity of RedZone growing, it seems likely to me that instead of watching a game between two teams they have no vested interest in, a fan would rather just flip on RedZone and watch nonstop action for seven hours on Sunday. The expansion of the NFL Network's Thursday night package also likely has something to do with the drop, but that's probably a good thing in the long-term, as it draws more eyeballs to the sporadically-viewed network, allowing it to crush all of the cable competition on Thursday evenings. I'm sure the NFL will take that cable win (along with their perennial wins on Monday nights) when it comes to a relatively minor overall drop in their national ratings on FOX and CBS. After all, every single other television property in America would do anything to get the NFL's ratings.
From this week's sports business journal:
"It’s clear that adding extra NFL games on Thursday is hurting the TV performance of other properties. But one result that may have been unexpected is its impact on the NFL’s other TV partners, as well. Fox’s total game viewership is down 5 percent; CBS’s is down 3 percent. Several industry sources blame the NFL Network’s expanded schedule for the viewership drop. They note the added games have taken two home markets — and their correspondingly big ratings — from the Sunday afternoon broadcasters and placed them on Thursday nights."