The Wall Street Journal peels back the numbers on what I have said all along: there actually IS something called "too much of a good thing." Overexposed, is overexposed. The more you see of anything, the less special it becomes, and as such leagues would be wise to carefully think about what that "sweet spot" of wanting more really is.
Writes Matthew Futterman...
For the second consecutive season, the NFL, that behemoth of the television business that sucks the air out of everybody else's ratings whenever one of its games takes place, is seeing a slight drop in the number of people who are tuning into its games. Excluding this first full season of Thursday night NFL Network telecasts, NFL games are averaging about 17.4 million viewers per game, down 2% from last year and 3% from 2010.
These numbers can't be explained away by a lousy sample. Through the NFL's first 14 weeks, the winning points have been scored in the final two minutes, or in overtime, 47 times. That ties this season for the most close games to this point since 1970.Caveat #1: I'm not sure if "carving out" the full Thursday numbers this year helps or hurts his point, but I am guessing if you included the Thursdays, ratings would be slightly up.
Caveat #2: He goes on to point out that NFL football still delivers a fucking C-130 sized load of desirable male eyeballs to the set every single week - something every other TV show would kill for.
That said, you always have to keep your ear the the ground on these things, because when there are massive shifts in sports fans attitudes and behaviors, it often starts with a dull, distant rumble.
Commenter Martin Fisch on the WSJ site made a great point I had not considered or tracked with any kind of hard data: "It's the commercials... stupid."
About 15 or so years ago the NFL made a commitment to completing games within a 3 hour framework. That effort didn't last too long as broadcast fee rights continued to escalate far beyond the rate of inflation. The NFL and its broadcasters abandoned that goal in order to enable the broadcasters to add more and more commercials to their telecasts in order to defray their money-losing NFL broadcast properties. The first casualty was the old 4 pm Eastern start of the doubleheader games which was moved to 4:15 pm. Most of the additional time was allotted to commercials. The most recent NFL TV contracts extensions again significantly increased broadcast fees to the networks. The result: the new 4:25 pm doubleheader start. Once more, the additional ten minutes enable several more minutes of commercials.
The number of minutes of commercial time has increased markedly in the past dozen or so years, to the point where there is no continuity or pace to an NFL game. A touchdown and extra point are followed by 2 minutes of commercials. The ensuing kickoff takes place then is immediately followed by 2 more minutes of commercials. Perhaps two plays are run then a player goes down on the field with an injury. The broadcast is immediately swung to another 1.5 minutes of commercials. Thus there are close to 6 minutes of commercials in the midst of a kickoff and a couple of plays. This scenario is played out throughout the game making for a chopped-up broadcast with no cohesion. Maybe people are just getting fed up not watching as much due to blatant commercialization of every broadcast.
While the 2 minute "commercial" sandwich around every kickoff after a score is something I have hated for years - hell, just make it a 4 minute block and maybe I can take a solid dump without having to hit pause - I wold like to know exactly how much more TV spot " inventory" the networks are now allowed to sell per game, as opposed to say 20 years ago.
More vexing to me, however, is what the league has seemingly become when I watch it - yes sir, yes sir, three screens full!
And that is...
1. A trainwreck of horrible tackling and eye rolling showboating.
2. A series of extremely dubious personal fouls or pass interference calls that change games.
3. A dissertation on the overly complex rulebook by the refs.
4. Microscopic examination of almost every play, followed by anger over replay's amazing ability to STILL get it wrong!
Yet........ there's still the heart pounding resiliance of a Adrian Peterson, the supernova rise of an RGIII, the surgical precision of a Tom Brady, and the 8-trillion different amazing ways a game can be won/lost in the final minutes of a game.
As such the NFL remains, the country's most irresistible sporting drug of choice.