For the past five decades, the NFL has promoted the Super Bowl as the ultimate event. Ever-increasing pomp, pageantry, and pizzazz, if not exciting football, encouraged hundreds of millions of Americans to treat the game as a festival, complete with viewing parties. But are fans tired of the hype?
Apparently so, according to overnight television ratings for Sunday’s Super Bowl LIII between the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots. Only 44.9 percent––the worst overnight ratings for the Super Bowl in 10 years––watched the Patriots’ 13-3 victory.
The CBS broadcast attracted less than 100 million viewers for the first time since the 2009 Super Bowl between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Only 98.2 million Americans watched the NFL’s main event this year.
Those figures follow a five-year decline in viewership. Since the 2015 Super Bowl, which attracted a rating of 49.7 percent, overnight ratings have decreased every year. The difference in figures between this year and 2015 is 5.2 percent.
One reason for this year’s decline is a massive boycott in New Orleans, where a questionable officiating call in the NFC championship game kept the hometown Saints from possible victory and a berth in the Super Bowl. Yet a survey released last Wednesday by the Remington Research Company anticipated reduced interest nationally as well, in advance of the event.
The survey showed that just 48 percent of Americans planned to watch Super Bowl LIII. Of the remaining 52 percent, 37 percent said they would not watch, while 15 percent remained uncertain.
Among those watching, only 34 percent said they looked forward to the game itself, with around 20 percent looking forward to the commercials. A vague category, called “something else,” received the third-largest response: 16 percent––more than the glitzy halftime show, which registered 10 percent.
Moreover, 44 percent did not care who won. When projected geographically, fans in 37 of the 50 states were neutral.
The exceptions? The six New England states where fans obviously root for the Patriots and seven states where the Rams find support. Of those seven, six are in the West (California, Nevada, Utah, Washington, Idaho, and New Mexico); the other is New Jersey.
Decreasing NFL Support
The survey’s results reflect decreasing interest in and support for the NFL. When asked for their opinion of the league, only 34 percent of respondents held a favorable view, with 37 percent regarding the NFL unfavorably and 29 percent not having an opinion.
In addition, 54 percent said they watched less football than in 2017. Only 26 percent said they viewed the same about of football, with 20 percent increasing their consumption.
Political allegiances played a decisive role in the results. Among Republicans, unfavorable opinion of the NFL exceeded positive views by 18 percent. The opposite held true for Democrats, with positive assessments out-polling negative ones by 12 percent.
The controversy surrounding the players’ reactions to the national anthem––a controversy that roiled the NFL in 2017––provided the pivot for those responses.
The vast majority of respondents, 65 percent, said players should stand respectfully for “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as opposed to kneeling to make a political statement. Republicans agreed with that proposition by a margin of 89 percent, while Democrats split their opinions.
Those percentages held despite the fact that 50 percent viewed President Donald Trump unfavorably, while 44 percent held a positive opinion. Trump inflamed the controversy in 2017 by saying that players who refused to stand should be, in his words, “fired.”
Yet the NFL faces a far bigger problem than patriotic optics. A narrow plurality, 36 percent, believes that officials on the field make unfair calls to benefit a particular team. Only 34 percent believe officials rule fairly, and 30 percent have no idea whether they do.
Goodell Has No Clue What He’s Talking About
The results reflect the aforementioned officiating controversy in the NFC championship game. Rams’ defensive back Nickell Robey-Coleman used his helmet to hit the helmet of Saints’ receiver Tommylee Lewis before Lewis could catch a pass thrown toward him. The play warranted a penalty either for pass interference or a helmet-to-helmet hit, yet officials called none.
Robey-Coleman hit Lewis with 1 minute, 45 seconds left in the fourth quarter and the score tied at 20. The Rams would win in overtime on a field goal.
Yet on the day Remington Research released its survey, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell proclaimed his league’s resurgence in addressing the state of the NFL.
“This season has demonstrated that there has never been a better time to be a part of the NFL,” Goodell said. “Our game is getting better and better, and our engagement and popularity is unmatched in today’s media landscape.”
Perhaps Goodell should talk with some of those who took Remington Research’s survey, or with the fans in New Orleans, or with the sponsors who paid millions of dollars for commercials.