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NFL acknowledges, but downplays, ratings drop


Fewer people have been watching the NFL on TV this year. The NFL previously had said nothing about it.

Now, the NFL has. And it’s along the lines of, “All is well.”

We’re missing some stars out there,” NFL media chief Brian Rolapp said, via the Wall Street Journal. Indeed they are, in part because they suspended one of the greatest players in league history on a trumped-up charge.

Rolapp also said that the NFL previously has experienced slow ratings starts, but that the league ultimate has “done just fine.”

No one is suggesting the league won’t do “just fine.” The goal for any successful business, however, is to do better than “just fine.” The goal is to keep growing and growing and growing and any sign of anything other than growth becomes cause for genuine concern.

Of course, it’s entirely possible the NFL is concerned, and that neither Rolapp nor anyone else will say anything that suggests concern for fear of the issue gaining momentum unnecessarily, as the media reacts to the expressions of concern and publicizes them and analyzes them and makes the concerns legitimate and more widespread.

Network executives like Eric Shanks of FOX have pointed to the election as a reason for reduced TV viewership. Les Moonves of CBS dismissed the issue; “I don’t think the sky is falling,” Moonves said.

He’s right. The sky isn’t falling. But the horizon also isn’t expanding, either, which is the dynamic the NFL has enjoyed through recession and political unrest and war and shifting viewing habits and anything and everything else the United States has experienced since the Colts beat the Giants in the 1958 NFL title game, sparking the emergence of a sports league that has dominated the American landscape.

The domination persists, but there are real signs that it may be shrinking. Notwithstanding the reality that league and network executives will say what they have to say to downplay concerns, it’s an issue that needs to be taken seriously behind closed doors.