Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
NFL ratings are in freefall this season, and no one can figure out precisely why.
Here’s the damage (according to Nielsen): Monday Football ratings down 20%, Sunday Night Football down 18.5%, and Thursday Night Football down 21.8%.
One theory, pushed by the NFL itself, is that the drop is because of “unprecedented interest in the Presidential election.”
But there’s another popular theory that’s far more troublesome for the powers that be. Perhaps, the thinking goes, the NFL was too greedy and diluted its product to a point where people have lost interest.
There was a time when the NFL was a Sunday afternoon endeavor — then came Monday night (1970), Sunday night (1987), and Thursday night in (2006).
“Have they sliced and diced it too much?” CBS boss Les Moonves asked at a recent Vanity Fair conference. “Is there too much product out there?” Moonves didn’t have an answer.
But there is one person who answered an emphatic “yes” to Moonves’ question: Mark Cuban — all the way back in 2014.
In 2014, Cuban, the entrepreneur who owns the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, went on an epic rant against the greed and overextension of the NFL, which was pointed out by Bloomberg in an excellent feature on the NFL’s current woes, published Thursday.
“I’m just telling you: Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. And they’re getting hoggy,” Cuban said in 2014. “Just watch. Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered. When you try to take it too far, people turn the other way. I’m just telling you, when you’ve got a good thing and you get greedy, it always, always, always, always, always turns on you. That’s rule No. 1 of business.”
At the time, the NFL had just signed an eight-game Thursday night football deal with CBS, which represented an NFL incursion into primetime network television for the first time since Monday Night Football debuted in 1970.
“They’re trying to take over every night of TV,” Cuban continued. “Initially, it’ll be, ‘Yeah, they’re the biggest-rating thing that there is.’ OK, Thursday, that’s great, regardless of whether it impacts [the NBA] during that period when we cross over. Then if it gets Saturday, now you’re impacting colleges. Now it’s on four days a week … It’s all football. At some point, the people get sick of it.”
Cuban declared the NFL was 10 years away from an implosion. Well, Mark, it might have come sooner than you thought. (When reached by Bloomberg, Cuban said he had “Nothing really to add. The data is the data.”)
It’s worth pointing out that there are a few other theories besides the election and saturation that might explain the NFL’s current predicament.
Here’s a summary of the big ones:
- Small sample sizes (there haven’t been enough games yet)
- Unfavorable matchups
- Cord-cutting (people just aren’t as interested in big live TV events anymore)
Additional reporting by Tony Manfred.