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Is It The Concussions? Football Suffers A Ratings Penalty

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

TV ratings for the NFL are down - way down. Commentator Frank Deford has some thoughts on why, and none related to America's fascination with this election.

FRANK DEFORD, BYLINE: So I start off by saying how much the National Football League is interested in the election next Tuesday. And you scream back at me, the election, the election, I'm trying to get away from the election. You're supposed to divert me with sports. And I respond, hold on, hold on. The election stuff will just take a wee bit of your time and then we can get back to the fun and games, to concussions and domestic violence.

You see, the one thing we can absolutely count on in television and life is that NFL audiences would continue to hold - yeah, even soar - year after year, even as every other program cratered. But suddenly this season, national NFL ratings have plunged in double-digit percentage points across the board. And to listen to the hysterical chatter from sports and business and media types alike, this seems as if television as we know it is as passe as, well, as radio.

Now here's where the election comes in. Amongst the many theories about why casual fans are tuning out, it appears that there is more interest in Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton than in Tom Brady and, well, there's always Tom Brady and some other guys. It's also true that in past election years, there have been teeny-weeny dips in the NFL eyeball count - but double digits, come on. Amongst the many other popular theories is that the NFL, which has in the past sold itself as the entertainment equivalent of the Marine Corps, has offended viewers because some of its players have not stood faithfully for the national anthem.

But it's tough to generalize. Our special British friends are seeing a similar sort of drop in the TV audiences for its Premier soccer league. But our baseball playoffs have seen a big bump up. It's also true that viewership for games featuring your NFL home team have pretty much held up. Now, maybe that suggests that the viciously brutal action in football that has attracted Americans to watch any two random teams clobbering each other's brain pans may have finally cumulatively caught up with the league. And henceforth, while the NFL will still be a mammoth success, it'll be rather more like other sports where the fans will be satisfied enough just to root, root, root for the whole team.

MONTAGNE: Commentator Frank Deford joins us here the first Wednesday of every month. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.