The 2017 NFL season will end a few hours early this year, as the league has decided to cancel its Sunday night game – the first time it has done so since 2006.
Instead of ending with a traditional night game, which usually features two playoff contenders, the season will wrap up with a heavier-than-usual afternoon slate of gridiron battles. The reason? Ratings.
Sunday, of course, is New Year’s Eve – and the way the playoff races have shaken out this year, there’s no matchup that has the high stakes the last game of the season usually offers. And with New Year’s Eve celebrations going on across the country, odds are few people would watch even if there was.
“We felt that both from a competitive standpoint and from a fan perspective, the most fair thing to do is to schedule all Week 17 games in either the 1 p.m. or 4:25 p.m. ET windows,” said NFL senior vice president of broadcasting Howard Katz in a statement. “This ensures that we do not have a matchup on Sunday Night Football on New Year’s Eve that because of earlier results has no playoff implications for one or both of the competing teams.”
The league had not announced which teams originally would have been playing in the Sunday night game.
The cancellation of this week’s Sunday Night Football is the capper on an especially challenging year for the NFL. Beyond the controversy involving players kneeling or otherwise protesting during the national anthem, which is almost certain to heat up again as the post-season and Super Bowl draw bigger audiences, the league has seen the impact of sexual misconduct allegations (one of which led to the Carolina Panthers going up for sale). What’s more, ratings for televised games are down 9% from a year ago.