Football is still America’s most popular sport. And the NFL our biggest and most popular sports league. But while the NFL’s status as the king of America’s sports hill remains, I don’t remember its position ever being as precarious. To wit, each of the biggest NFL-related stories of the year has been extremely unflattering to the league.
There’s all of the Colin Kaepernick-related stories (the protests, the reactions from the fans and the front offices and the freakin president to the protests, the boycotts, and the possible collusion to blackball him). And, then, the action on the field has been overshadowed by the conversations about what the action on the field is doing to the brains and bodies of the players.
The NFL’s ratings have reflected this, falling 9.7 percent this year after falling 8 percent last year—a dip that was then attributed to the election. This decline has led to a $300 million drop in ad revenue. Which, for a multibillion-dollar behemoth, isn’t the end of the world. I doubt anyone in the league’s front office is panicking. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the whiskeys they order at their pre-Super Bowl meetings and parties this weekend were doubles.
Naturally, there are myriad possible reasons for this decline in viewership. Most notable is the fact that there are just too many things to watch and too many ways to consume media. People are just doing other things.
It is interesting, though, that a week before the Super Bowl—the biggest sports and television event of the year—the stories dominating the national sports conversation have nothing to do with the NFL. Instead, we’re discussing, debating and arguing about a draft. A draft for the NBA All-Star Game. A draft that wasn’t even televised. A motherfucking conference call. A Skype conversation between LeBron James and Steph Curry.
To be fair, I’m sure by this time next week (as the actual game nears), the NFL will be back at the center of our public and cultural consciousness. Especially as the country puts our collective psychic powers together to band against Tom Brady and his merry crew of“MAGA” Patriots.
And like every other year, there will be Super Bowl parties, where many people will be only tangentially interested in the actual game. Only now, instead of it being cooler to give a shit about the game—or to at least pretend that you do—it’s now better not to.