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NFL ratings could fall again this season: UBS report

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

A new report from UBS Media asks, “How are early indicators of NFL ratings tracking?”

Not very good, if the “Hall of Fame game” is a useful indication. And UBS suggests it has been, in the past.

The Hall of Fame game is the first and typically the highest-rated NFL preseason game. This year’s Hall of Fame game was on Aug. 3, between the Dallas Cowboys and Arizona Cardinals, and it got an average of 7.7 million live viewers, according to Nielsen.

That’s an 18% drop from the 2013-2015 average. (There was no Hall of Fame game in 2016.)

On the other hand, the rest of Preseason Week 1 (16 games that ran from Aug. 9 through Aug. 13) did better. Live ratings were up 8% over Preseason Week 1 of last year.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at Jets training camp in New Jersey on July 31, 2017. Goodell and the NFL need ratings to bounce back this season. (AP)

HBO’s inside-the-locker-room series “Hard Knocks” is “another indicator of general NFL interest,” UBS believes, and live ratings for the premier episode were up 32% this year.

So: NFL Preseason Week 1 rating rose overall by 8%, but the game that usually fares best fell by 18%. Where does that leave us? It’s too soon to really tell.

As UBS acknowledges, “Full season visibility has by no means been established yet.” Ratings might end up actually rising from last year; it’s the rest of the preseason that will give the strongest indication.

Look at the chart below: preseason ratings almost always track in the same direction as regular season ratings: when the preseason dips, the regular season dips. (2014 is a notable exception: preseason fell, regular season rose.)

The regular season is what matters to the NFL’s many corporate advertisers, and the regular season in 2016 had its biggest ratings dive in 15 years.

Translation: the NFL needs a strong preseason. Are you watching?

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. 

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