NFL ratings off to rocky start, down from 2016

NFL
It’s the second straight year in which the NFL season opener pulled in lower ratings than the year before. (Josh Hallett/Flickr)

The NFL got off to a sluggish start late last week, with its ratings down from 2016 for the season opening Thursday night matchup between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs.

The game earned an overnight 14.6 rating among households, down from the 16.5 rating earned by last season’s opening tilt pitting the Denver Broncos against the Carolina Panthers. It’s the second straight year in which the NFL season opener pulled in lower ratings than the year before. In 2015, the first game of the season earned a 17.7 rating among households.

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Just as the 2016 Presidential election dinged ratings for the NFL in the first half of the previous season, coverage of Hurricane Irma may end up having an impact on this season’s opening weekend. But Jefferies analyst John Janedis said that the Irma factor didn’t seem to prevent a stock sell off last week that hurt media companies like Disney, whose ESPN is in need of decent viewership numbers for its first Monday Night Football broadcast tonight.

“Even with the likelihood of weather-related viewing issues for Thursday - Monday's NFL games, the market appears to be showing little patience given the headlines (last year's week 1 ratings were down 10%),” wrote Janedis in a research note.

Jefferies estimates that CBS, ESPN, FOX, and NBC will generate around $2.5 billion in NFL ad revenue during the regular season, with a “10% revenue shortfall translating to EBIT risk of around $200M assuming an 80% margin.”

Janedis said ratings from Sunday night’s New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys game will be a big focus for the market, particularly since last year's season opening Sunday night game between the Patriots and Arizona Cardinals drew 23.1 million viewers, down 14% annually.

“Interestingly, the Giants/Cowboys played on the same night in 2015 and posted 26.8 million viewers (up 10% Y/Y),” Janedis wrote.