At least in the Seattle-Tacoma market, TV ratings for Seahawks games remain strong even as the national trend has shown a decline of 11 percent across the board compared to last season, with prime-time games showing an even bigger drop.
The Seahawks have avoided what is suddenly the most talked-about trend of the first month of the NFL season — television ratings surprisingly lower than a year ago.
When the ratings were down the first week or two, the general national take was that it was sort of interesting but likely nothing more than a blip.
That changed when ratings were still at below-expected levels last weekend, the fourth of the NFL season, leading to a flurry of stories and conversation about what’s going on.
After last weekend, overall TV ratings were down about 11 percent from 2015 with prime-time windows down even more (led by ESPN’s Monday night package of games showing a 17 percent dip and the Thursday night games 15 percent).
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That hasn’t been the case when it comes to Seahawks’ games in Seattle, though.
Each of the first four games has had ratings and shares similar to a year ago — numbers that remain among the best in the NFL.
Comparisons of individual game ratings from year to year can be tricky, of course.
What time a game kicks off factors in (1 p.m. starts do better than 10 a.m. typically, with the prime-time Sunday game doing best of all) as does the attractiveness of the matchup (nationally, games involving Dallas do better than games involving just about anyone else).
But comparing what was Seattle’s first road game in a 10 a.m. local time slot last year — the opener against the Rams — and this year (last Sunday’s game against the Jets) reveals almost identical numbers.
The 2015 game against the Rams drew a 37.3 rating in the Seattle-Tacoma market (the rating is the percent of all people with TVs watching the game) and a 77 share (the percent of all people watching TV at the time tuned to the game) while last Sunday’s contest with the Jets had a 38.3 rating and 75 share.
Seattle’s other three games this season have all had comparable shares and ratings to the game against the Jets, and to the basic ratings and shares of a year ago.
But nationally, the Seattle-New York game was a dud, with a rating down 14 percent from a Week 4 game in that time slot last season (Giants-Bills being the primary game).
Notably, the Sunday night game between Kansas City and Pittsburgh declined 27 percent from that time slot a year ago, according to SportsMediaWatch.com.
That led to headlines like this in the Wall Street Journal this week: “Ratings fumble for NFL surprises networks, advertisers” and lots of stories trying to find answers.
There have been no shortage of theories as to why.
A unique presidential election taking people’s attention away from the NFL; a lack of interesting new stars and the loss or absence of some old ones (Peyton Manning retired, Tom Brady suspended, etc.); unattractive matchups in the prime-time games; a pushback from some viewers to NFL players who have protested during the anthem; more and more households moving away from cable TV’s bundle; the 18-34 age group (the E-sports generation) not watching traditional sports the way older age groups did and still do; even the fact the weather has been abnormally warm in a lot of areas, meaning it hasn’t quite hit the time of year when everyone hunkers inside for long Sunday afternoons of watching football.
That some fans may be staying away because of anthem protests is the most headline-grabbing possibility, and interestingly the NFL on Friday reportedly released a memo to all 32 teams stating it does not think that is a factor.
Instead, the NFL mostly pointed to the election. That the NFL seemed so vehement in saying the anthem protests are not a factor led some to wonder if the league was protesting too much in return.
The view here is all of the above probably have some validity, as does the fact that the league’s annually hoped-for parity seems to be missing a little bit this season.
A quarter into the season and teams in major cities such as Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit already appear to be playing for next year. The two New York teams are a combined 3-5.
Who knows? The rest of the nation might be tired of New England, Denver and Pittsburgh (and maybe Seattle).
Maybe it’ll be like a lot of early NFL trends each season with a correction to the way things usually are by Thanksgiving.
But with each week that the trend persists, the search for reasons will grow that much louder.