National Football League ratings faced steeper declines in 2017

National Football League television viewership dropped almost 10 percent in the just-completed 2017 campaign, according to Nielsen ratings released this week, but gridiron telecasts remain among the most popular US shows despite attacks from US President Donald Trump.

An added medium to watch games on Thursday night, with Amazon Prime Video this year and Twitter in 2016, also helps dilute viewership for the traditional National Football League television partners.

The decline in ratings - which was bigger than last year's 8 percent drop in viewership - meant the networks had to make good on commercials to National Football League advertisers in order to compensate for the audience shortfall, according to one network executive who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Last year's slide was partly attributed to a lost audience due to the presidential election.

Another possible factor, according to the ESPN report, included an oversaturation of the product. The NFL's Red Zone cable channel, which takes viewers to different games whenever there is a scoring opportunity, is drawing about 1 million viewers on Sunday, pulling fans away from their regional games on CBS and Fox. The NFL Network and DirecTV, which air separate versions of the show that broadcast live look-ins, have never shared viewership numbers.

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But since losing six of seven, the Chiefs have won their past three games - capturing the AFC West title in the process. Smith will enter the final year of his contract with Kansas City, and carries a cap hit of over $20 million.


NBC's "Sunday Night Football" averaged 18.2 million viewers, an 11% decline from the previous season and its smallest audience in nearly a decade.

Fantasy football, and the residual popularity of NFL RedZone on NFL Network and DirecTV, has also helped dilute the ratings for Sunday afternoon games.

CBS, Fox, NBC and ESPN all had smaller audiences in 2017, and CBS suffered the worst decline at 11.2 percent.

The NFL has a long way to fall before it faces any serious issues. NBC's "NFL Sunday Night Football" was the most-watched program in prime time, with 18.2 million viewers this past season.

  • Lawrence Cooper