NFL playoff games are usually among the top rated TV shows of any given year and while people look at sports as games, television and league executives know it is just a television show.
The Thursday and Sunday NFL prime-time packages took the biggest hits in viewership.
The NFL erosion was in line with United States prime time television ratings, which fell nine percent a year ago. In comparison, the average viewership for an National Football League game dropped 8% YoY in 2016.
December 10, 2017: San Francisco 49ers players kneel during the national anthem before an NFL football game against the Houston Texans.
The average audience size declined 9.7 percent with 14.9 million viewers compared to the 2016 regular season's viewership of 16.5 million, The Wall Street Journal reported. President Donald Trump said in September that players who protest during the anthem should be "fired", comments that led to widespread protests in Week 3. But the acceleration of ratings declines in the most recent season signals that viewership didn't merely temporarily dip, and could mark the beginning of an ongoing trend. NBC's Sunday Night Football dropped from 20.323 million to 18.175 million, ESPN's Monday Night Football from 11.390 million to 10.757 million and Thursday Night Football (which aired on NFL Network as well as CBS or FOX) from 12.438 million to 10.937 million. The NFL TV numbers are still the best in the business.
That means Goodell's National Football League, which can still boast the most popular sport in the U.S., nonetheless lost an average 1.6 million fans per game last season - like having 21 games played in an empty stadium. "Those highlights can be eight, nine or 10 minutes long, and I do worry they can be serving as a disincentive from watching the live game". Less cable subscriptions means less viewership, generally.
Fantasy football, and the residual popularity of NFL RedZone on NFL Network and DirecTV, has also helped dilute the ratings for Sunday afternoon games.