NFL Could Pick Up Game Pace to Draw Viewers

With this season’s ratings waning, the NFL is weighing options to drive broadcast viewers from switching out commercials to tweaking the game itself.

“If we don’t keep an open mind about preserving some flexibility, any measure of success you have can go away pretty quickly,” Brian Rolapp, NFL Media executive VP and NFL Network president and CEO, said Wednesday.  “We look constantly at improving the rules of the game, the safety of the game and the quality of the game – even if that means changing things that some people think are sacred cows.”

Speaking at the NAB Show New York conference, Rolapp said despite the league’s high-profile dip in broadcast ratings, “we are not overly surprised”—and “we are not overly worried.” 

The NFL’s ratings have grown significantly over the last 15 years, although that rise hasn’t been a straight shot, he said. Consumption of Thursday night football has doubled over the last few years, he said.

In addition, election season seems to take a toll on NFL viewership, and this year is no exception, he said.  Ratings have been down during every election year since 1992. In 2000, numbers dropped by nearly 10%, he said.

Yet, Rolapp said, “we don’t blame everything on the election” and believes viewership ultimately comes down to whether games can hold consumers’ attention.

Picking up the pace is one option, he said.

“Could they be shorter? Could they be better? Are replays too long?” he said. “We are constantly looking at those things to make the pace of the games more interesting.”

The league is also “looking very hard” at changing the way it commercializes broadcasts, as running up to 70 ads per game can be a turnoff, he said. "In a world where Netflix has no commercials and consumers are used to 15 seconds of of pre-roll, is there a better way to do commercials with our broadcast partners?”

Meantime, the NFL will continue keeping close tabs on the ratings the remainder of this season and whether they rise now that the election is over.

“This election is so unique, and people are going to talk about it for a long time,” Rolapp said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we finish this year down."

“But we would like to see the ratings come back,” he said.