NFL Viewership Down 20 Percent, Could Cost League $920 Million In Telecast Profits

Kaepernick’s Protests Have Cost NFL 20 Percent of its Viewers

Colin Kaepernick’s anti-anthem antics have hurt the NFL big-time—the league lost roughly a million regular-season viewers last year, compared to the 2013 and 2014 seasons.  In total, this was about a 6 percent drop in viewership.

But that’s nothing compared to this year’s carnage.

In the wake of the latest round of player protests (and President Trump’s twitter assault), viewership is in free-fall.

Forbes reports that this season’s television viewership is down by 3 million relative to the 2013 and 2014 seasons.  And when accounting for the telecast’s average reach, and live ticket sales, the NFL’s viewership is down by over 4 million—a staggering 20 percent.

Some have tried to argue that the NFL’s decline is part of a broader trend: millennials and generation Z aren’t as interested in sports as are their parents and grandparents etc.  This is true, but losing 20 percent viewership in the space of two years has nothing to do with broad trends—specifics matter.  In this case, the anthem protests are squarely to blame.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this out: the people have spoken.  A recent poll done by Rasmussen Reports found that one-third of American adults said they’re “less likely to watch NFL game telecasts because of the Kaepernick-led player protests.”  Conversely, only 13 percent of respondents said they were “more likely” to watch because of the protests.

Likewise, we can’t chock the decline up to a general malaise surrounding sporting, since MLB viewership is way up.  In fact, this year’s MLB postseason has been the most-watched since 2011, averaging 4,763,000 per game.

According to a analysis of TBS’s coverage:

Overall, 2017 MLB Postseason coverage on TBS averaged 4.6 million viewers, a 44% increase over last year’s comparable LCS telecasts airing on the network. Overall, TBS’s 2017 MLB Postseason coverage led the network to win the night eight times across all of cable television in primetime. TBS also generated increases across all key demos throughout its MLB Postseason coverage, along with huge gains in live streaming and social impressions. TBS’s 2017 NLCS coverage garnered 110% growth among People 18-49 and increases of 106% in People 18-34, 100% in People 25-54 and 98% in Men 18-49.

MLB on TBS studio coverage throughout the 2017 MLB Postseason produced a 37% increase for its pre-game show and 17% bump for its post-game show compared to 2016, based on metered market delivery.

Live streaming coverage of the 2017 MLB Postseason across Turner’s TV Everywhere platforms averaged 7.4 million minutes of consumption per game, up 136% over last year. Bleacher Report’s MLB Twitter account generated 29 million impressions during Turner’s coverage of the 2017 MLB Postseason, an increase of 38% over last year.

Either way, there’s no doubt that Kaepernick’s protests have hurt the league.

This will cost the NFL big money.  Television fees generate roughly $4.6 billion for the league—they’re a major reason why the average NFL team is worth $2.34 billion.

If the NFL’s viewership remains this low, and the licensing fees reflect the drop in viewership, the NFL could stand to lose some $920 million annually—never mind declining ticket and merchandise sales.

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