The NFL’s sluggish ratings were one of the biggest stories in TV for the past two years. The falling numbers weren’t blamed on just one thing: There were concerns over concussions, star players getting hurt nearly every week and, of course, President Trump attacking the league over players kneeling during the National Anthem.
But the ratings are up this year. So what’s going on? Well, again, it’s possible that there are a few different explanations, but there’s likely one reason above all the rest: The NFL is fun to watch again.
Fifty four games this season have been decided by just one score, according to the NFL. That’s tied for the most in league history through week six. Scoring is also on a record pace, with NFL teams having scored 504 touchdowns and 4,489 points, both records this far into a season.
Twenty one of the NFL’s 32 teams are currently in first place or within one game of it, and at least one game has gone to overtime in each of the first six weeks. That’s the first time that’s happened since the league instituted the regular season overtime rule in 1974.
Last year, the NFL was marred by injuries with some of the league’s best and most marketable players getting hurt. Big names like J.J. Watt, Odell Beckham Jr. and Andrew Luck were all injured at some point in the season. Those players being on the sidelines obviously hurt their teams, but also undoubtedly hurt the league’s overall product.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a press conference on Thursday that he believes that the quality of the games are “a big driver” of the ratings rebound.
“I think we see so many players playing at high levels, and teams playing at an incredibly high level and the competitiveness of our league. All of those things are contributing factors,” Goodell said.
Quarterbacks have always been the NFL’s biggest stars, and this season has given fans some new blood. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the league in touchdowns while quarterback and No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield has somehow made the lowly Cleveland Browns, who went winless last year, quite entertaining. These new stand outs are playing alongside old favorites like Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers who, despite playing on one leg due to a knee injury, is cruising along and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who became the NFL’s all-time passing yards leader a few weeks ago.
There’s also new teams like the Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams, which didn’t exist a few years ago, planting their flag as possible franchises of the future. The NFL has also mostly avoided major controversies that hampered it in past years. All of this has added to the league’s entertainment value this season.
The ratings impact of high-scoring, competitive games was apparent in two of the league’s premiere match ups just this week.
The New England Patriots’ thrilling 43-40 win over the Chiefs was up 32% for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” over the last year’s game, which was the New York Giants blowing out the Denver Broncos 23-10.
And the Packers’ late game 33-30 comeback win over the San Francisco 49ers on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” was up 40% over last year’s game, which was the Tennessee Titans beating the Indianapolis Colts, whose franchise quarterback Andrew Luck was injured, 36-22.