Bill O'Reilly tweeted this point last week, and it crossed my consciousness today, about alleged woes facing the NFL; his specific data was cherrypicked and his underlying thesis was inaccurate:
Consider, first of all, that while ratings were down in 2016 and 2017, they were actually up year-over-year across the board last season, so the argument about the NFL "continuing" to lose fans does not hold water.
Further, O'Reilly cherrypicked Sunday Night Football ratings from this year's Week 2 matchup between the Eagles and Falcons. The point of comparison for last year was Cowboys-Giants. Through three weeks and four games (including the season opener) this year, NBC is down about 1 percent year-over-year ... but ... they have the Cowboys on tap against the Saints this weekend.
The Cowboys are ratings juggernauts. To illustrate this point: since 2011, the Cowboys have played in 25 Sunday Night Football games that have averaged more than 20 million viewers. In that same time span, only nine NBA Finals games and eight World Series games (which each have a sample of 4-7 per year) have reached that milestone.
And the other networks are all up so far this season versus last year, which, again, was up versus 2017. ESPN's Monday Night Football ratings, despite being 14 percent down year-over-year for Skins-Bears last night, are still up about 6 percent on the season. Sports Business Journal's Austin Karp tweeted this morning that Fox and CBS are seeing their best numbers through three weeks since 2016.
This is all before we get to the fact that live sports in general, and the NFL in particular, have held up remarkably compared to everything else on television, where viewership has migrated towards platforms that are not supported by advertising. The NFL has never been stronger than it is today, and this will be reflected when we see the numbers on their new live rights deals.
With regards to attendance, O'Reilly is onto something that it has been trending downwards and perhaps this does signal long-term issues for the league, but the TV component is more important from a revenue and mass consumption perspective. While the league is still off from its 2015 peaks in gross viewership, O'Reilly's underlying argument is easily debunked.