CBS Sports chairman says too much football hurting ratings


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Add CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus to the list of TV executives who think the reason for a decline in ratings this season is because there’s too much football on TV.

Even tough McManus’ network airs games on Thursdays, along with the NFL Network, he said those could be hurting the product. 

“I do think it’s clear that adding 10 games to the Thursday night package and two additional Sunday morning London games has clearly diluted the Sunday afternoon packages and affected the ratings. It’s just simple mathematics,” McManus told the Wall Street Journal.

This seems to be the new narrative for why football ratings are down. What the executives don’t seem to be talking about is how streaming and a younger viewing audience are coming into play. And they are not blaming the weekly player protests, either.

Speaking at the Paley International Council Summit in New York last week, Fox CEO James Murdoch said that there is an “overproliferation” of games, particularly as the league expanded Thursday Night Football, and that the ratings are “soft.”

“There’s a question mark for the NFL, which is just to think hard about how they’re licensing,” Murdoch said in his keynote address. “So I do think the proliferation of Thursday availability, and the proliferation of football generally, does mean that you’re asking a lot from customers to watch Thursday.

“And then they watch a lot more college football games on Saturdays, and then on Sundays, and then on Monday Night Football, etc. It’s a lot. So I do think that preserving the scarcity value of those events and that audience is something that is worth thinking about.”

Michael Mulvihill, executive vice president of research at Fox, told the Wall Street Journal that the political issue of the day doesn’t seem to be affecting the ratings.

“The anthem protests have been less a factor than some people have claimed,” Mulvihill said. “Even though [Mr. Trump] elevated the issue, you haven’t seen a negative impact.”

Overall, ratings for NFL games are down 5%, with only Monday Night Football on ESPN and the Thursday Night Games on CBS and the NFL Network seeing an increase. Taking the biggest hits are the Sunday afternoon games on CBS and Fox, with the Sunday Night game on NBC down slightly.

CNN reported last week, citing information from Nielsen, that while NFL ratings are down, it might be because of a trend in TV viewership. According to the report, NBC regular prime-time audience is down 4%, CBS is down 6%, ABC is down 11%, and Fox is down 20% through the first month of the new season.

Sports Business Journal reported that since the fall TV season opened on Sept. 25, NFL game viewership is 2.5 times bigger than broadcast prime-time viewership. And, 17 of the top 20 shows that have aired since the start of football season are football game coverage. Also, according to Standard Media Index, money spent on advertising during NFL games increased by 2% in September. 

Follow Spain on Twitter @kevin_spain

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