The Guardian ran a piece earlier today with some potentially worrying news: US television ratings for the Premier League are down. Way down.
The article notes that Premier League figures on NBC Sports Network are down 17% from this time last year. It also quotes Sports Media Watch that, out of 49 broadcast time slots given to the Premier League, ratings are down in 35 of them compared to last year.
To better contextualize the drop in ratings, they also show that NFL ratings in the US are down 12% and domestic (UK) ratings for the Premier League are down 20%.
The big question is why this is happening.
Some, like former CBS Sports executive Rick Gentile, believe there’s the market for televised sports is oversaturated. Some believe that kickoff times in the US are becoming more of a problem— the North London Derby on Sunday kicked off at 7am on the East Coast and 4am on the West Coast. Others believe that cordcutters are to blame, and that Premier League fans who watch games on their laptops or mobile devices aren’t being fully represented in the ratings figures. Still others believe that the US presidential election has dominated the ratings to the extent that sports, typically a lucrative stalwart as far as television ratings are concerned, are starting to suffer. The article even suggests that the “big” clubs underperforming last season and the title going to Leicester City may have contributed to a fall-off in interest.
At the risk of indulging in anecdata, I would point out that broadcast times for NBCSN’s supplementary Premier League programming— especially their version of Match Of The Day, which shows highlights from the day’s action— aren’t particularly consistent. Sometimes Match Of The Day for a particular day doesn’t air at all. This may be a product of contractual obligations tied to their other properties— looking at you, NASCAR— but regardless, NBCSN are doing themselves few favors. Those supplementary programs help build and maintain an audience and serve viewers who can’t (or won’t) drag themselves out of bed while it’s still dark to watch football and don’t want to risk seeing that the game they want to see isn’t available on NBC Sports Live Extra later.
In any event, it’s probably too early for NBC to panic. The festive season is right around the corner, and the week between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day will feature at least one Premier League fixture every single day. That stretch of games will likely be a turning point in a title race that’s already very tight. Don’t be surprised if ratings start to rebound.