NFL’s Rice Recount: The 35% Female Factor

As the story and ramifications about Ray Rice’s reprehensible actions morph into the NFL’s investigation of the matter and perhaps the job status of commissioner Roger Goodell, the Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the league’s first ever Thursday (non-Thanksgiving) night game on a broadcast network.

The Sept. 11 game would have been historic its own right, as the NFL, looking to build its footprint on an important night for television and Madison Avenue, awarded a package to CBS. For a reported $275 million in rights fees, the nation’s most-viewed network will air games during the first half of the season that will be simulcast on NFL Network. The back end of the schedule will feature games produced by CBS that will air on NFL Network and broadcast stations in the participating teams’ home markets.

Last season, NFL Network averaged 8 million for its 13-game TNF package, including viewers from over-the-air stations in the participating teams’ markets. The audience ante will jump considerably with CBS in the huddle.

In hindsight, the league's schedule-makers did or didn’t do CBS/NFLN a favor with Rice’s former club engaged in a rivalry game against AFC North nemeis Pittsburgh, as the industry gets a first look at how the NFL may play long-term and reshape broadcast on Thursdays.

As the media furor and indignation of Rice’s knockout blow of his then fiancée, now wife, Janay in the elevator of the now defunct Revel in Atlantic City continues to boil and NOW’s president Terry O’Neill, among others, is calling for Goodell to fall on his shield, the mess now turns to possible disillusionment from the fan base – especially on women's side of the ball – for viewership of Baltimore-Pttisburgh, the games this weekend or beyond.

Since it’s a first of its ilk, there aren’t CBS TNF Nielsens to compare from last season. But perhaps we can get a sense of distaff disconnect with the pro football league if female viewing trends negatively – with sponsors potentially following.

According to a Ratings Intelligence analysis of Nielsen data, females represented 34.65% of the audience for the NFL’s national games during the 2013 regular season, versus 65.35% for men.

A breakdown of the data indicates that NBC’s Sunday Night Football was the top primetime show during the 2013-14 TV season with an average audience of 21.7 million viewers, including 7.5 million female watchers, or 35% of its tally. SNF was also the top show in TV among women 18 to 34 and for the first time ever among ladies 18 to 49.

ESPN’s Monday Night Football averaged 13.7 million watchers during the 2013 campaign, 4.2 million of whom were women, or 30.5% of its total.

On Sunday afternoons, the ratios were higher. Fox’s national games counted 27.1 million viewers, with 9.8 million women in the tent, 36.4% of its average audience.

CBS, meanwhile, garnered 24.9 million watchers for its national telecasts, including 9.1 million women, or 36.7% of its base.

As the NFL kicks off the second week of its 2014 campaign, the national spotlight and megaphone are squarely on what has been the shadowy, silent and significant problem that is domestic violence.

We’ll soon see if the outcry of the burgeoning Rice/Goodell fiasco has any impact on TV’s most popular entertainment form.

Take the under on that proposition.