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Are sagging NFL ratings a cause for concern?

Sagging NFL ratings a cause for concern?
The Carolina Panthers take the field before an Oct. 10 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on ‘Monday Night Football.”
(Bob Leverone / Associated Press)

There is no denying the NFL is troubled by its sagging television numbers, with viewership showing double-digit declines as the 2016 season approaches the midway point.

Through the first six weeks of the season, “Thursday Night Football” was down 18% compared with last year, “Sunday Night Football” had dropped 19% and “Monday Night Football” had slipped 24%. Although game telecasts are still reaching as many people, the ratings show fans aren’t sticking around as long.

Among the theories for the swoon are a heightened interest in the contentious presidential election, fan fallout from San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and other players kneeling during the national anthem, off-the-field issues of players, and sometimes simply bad games.

“We don’t dismiss any theory, if you want to call it that,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Gary Myers on WFAN’s Chalk Talk.

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Former Fox executive David Hill, among the most influential innovators in the history of sports broadcasting, called the ratings dip “a storm in a teacup” and argued the downturn is not a harbinger of long-term trouble for the league.

“It’s still the most popular thing on television,” Hill said by phone. “It’s kind of like if you’ve got a Rolls-Royce, complaining that the seats are gray instead of brown. It’s still the biggest game in town. Advertisers still want to get in front of eyeballs. Television channels have to have it. The American public has an insatiable appetite for it.”

Hill, who oversaw the creation of Fox Sports and ran it for more than two decades, came up with the Red Zone Channel, the virtual first-down line, and the box that shows the score and game time constantly in the corner of the screen.

He said the shrinking attention span of viewers is naturally going to lead to shrinking viewership numbers. He also pointed to methods of delivery other than TV, including the league’s streaming deal with Twitter.

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“I believe all traditional sports are going to suffer declines because of the audience of millennials who have broken the habit of their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers of sitting in front of the TV,” he said. “They’re used to far more varied things.”

Still battling 

Former NFL coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose last NFL job was in San Diego, was diagnosed five years ago with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, according to an ESPN report, and has exhibited signs of the brain disease.

“He’s in the best of health, [but] sometimes he just doesn’t remember everything,” Schottenheimer’s wife, Pat, told Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland. “He functions extremely well, plays golf several times a week. He’s got that memory lag where he’ll ask you the same question three or four times.

“He remembers people and faces, and he pulls out strange things that I’ve never heard, but he’s doing well. It’s going be a long road. We both know that.”

Schottenheimer, 73, a former NFL linebacker, was a head coach in Cleveland, Kansas City, Washington and San Diego. Even though his 2006 Chargers finished 14-2, he was fired after losing the team’s playoff opener to New England.

Schottenheimer and his wife plan to attend an event in Cleveland on Friday commemorating the 30th anniversary of 1986 Browns team, the one that lost the AFC championship to John Elway’s Denver Broncos, 23-20.

The Schottenheimers now live in Charlotte, N.C., on Lake Norman.

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“I’m sitting here looking at a lake and it’s a spectacular setting,” he told Grossi. “Pat and I, the Lord’s blessed us. I mean, there’s no other way I can identify it. We’re doing really good.”

Arresting stats

The later the kickoff, the greater the number of arrests at NFL games.

That was among the findings in a Washington Post study released this week, looking at police arrest data gathered over the past five seasons.

The numbers also show that when division opponents play at night, there are on average twice as many arrests as at non-division day games. What’s more, if the home team loses, regardless of the opponent or kickoff time, arrests increase. And the closer the loss, the more the arrests.

The arrest information was not completely uniform, with 29 of the 31 NFL jurisdictions providing at least partial numbers. The Post did not get data from authorities in Cleveland or New Orleans.

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is “the real deal down here,” says former NFL coach Mike Martz.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is "the real deal down here," says former NFL coach Mike Martz.
(Denis Poroy / Associated Press )

Making his mark

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It seemed to take forever for San Diego to sign Joey Bosa, but the learning curve for the rookie defensive end has been remarkably brief. Bosa, the No. 3 overall pick, has four sacks in his three career games, adding the pass-rush punch the Chargers have long sought.

“Joey Bosa is the real deal down here,” said former NFL coach Mike Martz, who now analyzes the Chargers for the “Mighty 1090” radio in San Diego. “For a guy so young, he uses his hands real good.  He’s technique-poor in some areas, but he’s got a motor, he’s athletic, he’s all those things that you are looking for. He came in and had an immediate impact so they’ve got to be excited about him.”

The Chargers, who play at Denver on Sunday, have been careful about not overworking Bosa, playing him 27, 56 and 47 snaps in his first three games. Bosa said that wasn’t always the case when he was facing uptempo college offenses.

“I look back at Ohio State, and I see I wasn’t flying around as much as I should have been,” he told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “But it has partly to do with the fact that I was playing 80 plays [per game] almost.”

sam.farmer@latimes.com

Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesFarmer


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