NFL Viewership is Down: We Blame Poor Ethics

There is a lot of hand-wringing as the NFL is conceding that TV ratings are down for NFL games so far this season. The season is early, to be sure so we can only comment on the present and not make projections.

kids-playing-footballNaturally, everyone who cares about these trends has an opinion. Some feel it’s the new rules, or it is a violation of laws; others believe the game has gotten boring and over-commercialized. Some believe it is all “Kaepernick’s fault,” while others point to the “Concussion” movie. Critics say that Millennials aren’t interested in watching an entire game anymore while others blame mobile devices with faulty apps. We have a different take, and it should come as no surprise that we blame poor ethics.

Not to talk politics

We will leave the world of football for a bit, and enter the political arena. There is an interesting parallel. At this moment, the U.S. Congress “enjoys” a 12% approval rating. Republican, Democrat or Independent, Americans across the board give higher ratings to used car salespeople, bankers and lenders, and stockbrokers than they do to politicians. Why? Many of us feel there is a huge disconnect. It is them and us, unequal benefits (for example, lifelong healthcare) and unbelievable perks.

Like it or not, many NFL fans feel a disconnect from the league, the players – and their consequences, the NFL management and the game itself.

We gave a list of possible reasons above and it is arguable that each reason in its own unique way, has contributed to the decline, but in the end, we feel that poor ethics must be figured into the equation.

For example, until the league and medical community is ethically transparent about the dangers of the game in terms of head trauma, how seriously does the league believe some fans will believe safety messages? In terms of these fans in particular, will they encourage their kids to play the game or to even watch the game?

What about legal violations? The fans have grown weary of players who have committed crimes such as sexual assault or a crash involving alcohol one week, and then somehow manage to “put it behind them” the next week with the help of league security and teams of lawyers. We ask, “Suppose we had committed the same crimes?”

Has “protest” affected viewership? Ethically, it is not our place to argue whether someone should stand or sit or hop on one foot during the national anthem. However, one ethical critique is that in a league where a player is fined for a minor violation of the dress code or a piece of tape on the wrist honoring a grandparent or a child with cancer, why would there be no policy about on the field protests and our national anthem?

Nevertheless, every choice does have a consequence. Non-comment by the league also conveys an ethical message. A fan may also decide to exercise his or her point-of-view by turning off the game or not supporting the products the player endorses.

Times change

There is a life cycle for every product. Football viewership may be declining because other games and interests are rising. It is a fact that must be faced, or perhaps the game has become stale due to over-commercialization and overwhelming rules and regulations.

Then again, perhaps fans are tired of poor ethics starting in the commissioner’s office then crossing over to the union, the agents, and the publicists. We may see things and then wonder why no one in the league has seen the same things. Yes, we hear it when we are told, “This is a business and you fans don’t understand.” Oh, but we do.

It brings up an important point about sports ethics: the league may want to forget, the teams and even the players may want to forget, but many fans don’t. It is possible that viewership is declining because football itself is bending under the weight of its own ethical negligence.

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