Why No One Is Watching the NFL

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 21: of the New England Patriots of the Oakland Raiders at Gillette Stadium on September 21, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

NFL ratings have absolutely cratered, putting an entire industry in a state of confused panic. Sunday Night Football is down 19% year-over year. Monday Night Football is down an almost unheard of 24%.

But for anyone that has been paying attention, this reversal of fortune shouldn’t come as a surprise. There’s one major reason 30-something dudes like me are no longer tuning in:

Sports Are Losing the Battle for People’s Time

This week’s Thursday night game (and yes, for anyone not in the loop, there is football on Thursday night now) is THREE HOURS AND 10 MINUTES LONG. Three hours!

Do you know what I could do in that amount of time? I could watch the latest installment of a gorgeous and immaculately written, acted, and shot TV drama that is filled with mysteries, action, intrigue, and thoughtful ideas.


I could then do the whole thing again, with yet another lauded, riveting story filled with compelling characters and just the right touch of the absurd.


And after THAT I could then play through the better part of the entire Act of a near-perfect sci-fi shooter video game campaign.

Gears of War 4
Gears of War 4

Since the football game is three hours and ten minutes long I would still have about 10 minutes left to check out my cute nieces and nephews on Facebook and read the New York Times top story.

It isn’t digital native millennials cutting cable, or socially-conscious millennials responding to concussion-gate, or the election keeping everyone distracted, or bad prime-time match-ups, or a greedy NFL simply expanding to too many days.

It’s time.

(OK – it’s probably also those other five things too – with the election arguably being most on point, as it served as yet another distraction away from televised sports. But lemme get through my point, here).

Facebook isn’t just competing with Snapchat. Battlefield 1 isn’t just competing with Call of Duty. Westworld isn’t just competing with The Walking Dead. They’re all competing against each other for that tiny window of time myself and an entire generation of 30-somethings have from 7-11pm.


The average Facebook user spends 50 minutes on the site and its services per day. To account for all you “well, actually…” commenters out there, let’s just go ahead and knock that way down to 25 minutes for our purposes, and assume we’re all below-average Facebook users.

Those 25 minutes represent one less episode of Veep watched a couple days a week. Maybe I don’t need that HBO Now account after all. Those 25 minutes represent a couple fewer World Quests completed in World of Warcraft a few days each week, too. Maybe I don’t need that subscription, either.

Facebook is a service that didn’t exist just over a decade ago and it has now accounts for 5% of our waking moments. There isn’t an unlimited about of percents to go around, here. With so much competing for our time, any company providing audiences with anything less than a stellar, immaculate product can’t just skate by any longer.

Incidentally, I believe this also helps explain the continuing ascension of soccer in the United States. Besides just being a beautiful game, it’s also a game that respects my time, with each televised match clocking in at just 1 hour and 45 minutes. That’s considerably shorter than basketball, hockey, baseball, and of course football.


We’re not just in an era of peak TV. We’re in the era of peak media. Snapchat Discover has a bunch of cool stuff on it each day. IGN is publishing rad mini-documentaries on Youtube. It has never been more important to keep up with the news. There’s totally awesome stuff happening in the comic book scene, even if you’ve never been a comics person. It’s impossible to keep up.

And there simply isn’t time for sports anymore.

Disclaimer: I may not know what I’m talking about. But I hope I made you think.


  1. I do not disagree with your premise of us having more and more ways to spend out time. I also agree that this has probably caused some of the casual fan base to drop of. But as someone who usually watches 5 NFL games a week, I think the drop off is mainly due to the quality if the game being diminished. The recent rules have limited practice time and it is starting to affect the teams. There are so many bad teams this year, and this has resulted in many unwatchable games, especially in Prime time. The NFL needs to work on the quality of their product or this collapse is going to keep happening.

  2. Great read! Never thought of time as the main reason. And I totally agree with your soccer argument. I’ve been increasingly less interested in watching televised sports, but soccer is still fun to me. It also helps that you get 45 minutes of uninterrupted, commercial-free gameplay. That’s almost unheard of these days.

  3. One other explanation is the nearly complete lack of availability of the NFL on anything other than traditional TV providers. Yes, TNF is available on Twitter, but it’s safe to say most people don’t know about that, or don’t care. Good news is that with falling ratings, places like DirecTV won’t be nearly as willing to pay the ridiculous amount of money it takes for exclusivity, allowing streaming providers a better shot of winning the bidding for broadcast rights.