NBC’s flagship Sunday Night Football game had its smallest audience in five years this week, evidence of the NFL’s new deflation issue.
The game between Indianapolis and Houston reached 13.6 million viewers, removing the weekly broadcast from its usual spot at or very close to the top of the Nielsen company ratings. CBS’ Thursday night game scored slightly higher.
To be fair, Indianapolis and Houston represents few fans’ idea of a marquee matchup. NFL ratings have been down in general this year, leading to much speculation about the cause. Intense interest in the presidential race is thought to be one factor in the slump.
This season, NBC’s prime-time games have been down 17 percent from last year, when ratings were at their peak for the telecast.
A continued slump for the NFL, which has been one of the most dependable ways for TV networks to get viewers in recent years, has broad implications. Networks may be forced to offer “make goods,” or free commercials, to advertisers if ratings don’t pick up. If the downfall is long term, it could impact the prices that networks pay the NFL for broadcast packages.
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