Two years ago at this time, we (and many others) were writing about the decline in television viewership of the National Football League. Back then, the NFL was reeling from controversy sparked by some players kneeling during the National Anthem. The League’s critics included President Trump.
Viewership increased during the 2018 season and has increased again so far in 2019, with the average NFL game now reaching 16.3 million viewers, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Notably, the NFL is strengthening its lead over everything else on American television. Over the last three years, the NFL led the most-watched non-NFL prime time shows by less than 2 million viewers. This year the gap between the NFL and the most watched non-NFL prime time shows is more than 4 million viewers.
The 16.3 million viewer number is about the same as in 2016. It’s still down from 18.7 million in 2015, but represents a nice increase from the 2017 and 2018 numbers — 15.0 and 15.8, respectively.
Two years ago, various theories, in addition to politically-based ones, were offered to explain the NFL’s declining viewership. They included (but were not limited to) awareness of the concussion problem, cord-cutting, and the quality of the teams that matched up in the prime time games on Thursday, Sunday, and Monday nights.
The NFL has taken steps — effective or not I don’t know — to reduce head injuries. It may also have improved the quality of the prime time matchups as well as the overall quality of the play. Again, I don’t know. Most of the pro football I watch involves the Washington Redskins. Their play has gotten worse.
I suspect, though, that the receding of political controversy is a significant factor in the rebound of television viewership of the NFL. The League can’t be unhappy that the NBA is now where such controversy rages.