NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed for the first time Wednesday a recent Wall Street Journal report that detailed a dip in television ratings over the first few weeks of the 2016 regular season.
While he mentioned various pitfalls, such as the monumental ratings drummed up amid the 2016 general election, he said that the NFL does not want to make excuses.
"It's something that I don't think there's a single reason for. I really don't. We look at all those factors," Goodell said at the Fall League Meeting in Houston. "Everyone's got theories, you guys got theories, others got theories. We work closely with our network partners. We see tremendous strength in our numbers. But we also know that the prime time ratings we're seeing the most dramatic decrease. It went straight up against two very significant debates. Another one of our prime time games on Thursday night was on the NFL Network, as opposed to a network, which will always get a lower rating. There are a lot of factors to be considered.
"We don't make excuses, we look at it and we try and figure out what's changing. I think you're touching at a point that I think is significant, which is consumer changes and their behavior, and the way they consume media. That's something we've been focused on for several years. It's why we've been doing more with with Snapchat and YouTube and others. And it's why we did our work with Yahoo last year. ... We're seeing these changes. We recognize that network television is still dominant, and we believe it's going to be dominant going forward. It's where the vast majority of our fans view our games. It's a great experience. The advertising markets are incredibly strong. I think our ratings are something that we'll continue to look at and trying to make sure we're doing everything, not just to get them to tune in but to get them to stay tuned in. That's the issue, that's what we've worked on.
Goodell attempted to combat the inevitable questions during his opening statement, citing a decrease in average margin of victory to 10.07 points per game, the second-lowest in league history. He also mentioned that "closeness of games," or games that end with a difference of seven points or less, is currently on pace to be the best ever.
Speaking before Goodell's official press conference, Giants owner John Mara also noted that some of the matchups have simply not been competitive. He cited the Giants-Vikings game back on Oct. 3 (Monday Night Football) as a perfect example -- a matchup between a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and dynamic receiver against the league's best defense. However, the Giants did not score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, and lost 24-10.
Wednesday night represents the final presidential debate and the first one this season that was not up against a prime-time NFL game. Goodell said, in a later question, that he did not think the NFL has permanently lost any viewers.
Some other notes from Goodell...
» Goodell defended mounting questions on the taunting rule, which has come under fire throughout the regular season due to a lack of concrete understanding -- or perhaps lack of a digestible explanation. For example, Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles was not flagged after he punted a football into the stands in London following a touchdown (explanation here). A few weeks later, Redskins tight end Vernon Davis got penalized for shooting the football over the goal post following a score (explanation here).
"What you're really saying, is not that there's disparities in the way it's being officiated, that you don't like the rule. ... Listen, the committee looks at this every year," Goodell said. "This is one of those things, I've been in the league 35 years, I don't think there's any year we didn't look at this issue. It comes down to balancing a lot of issues. The professional standards we want to uphold. We do believe that our players are role models, and others look at that at the youth level, so that's important for us to hold that standard up. And it's part of being professional. So that's one element of it. We have taunting, which is a significant issue, and taunting fouls are up this year. It's probably a combination of making that a point of emphasis. But we look at that as sportsmanship, and that can lead to, in most cases when somebody taunts somebody else, somebody reacts, and that can escalate quickly. Those are things that we're really concerned about. We look at it closely. The committee balances those issues. I don't think they're being officiated inconsistently. You may not like the rule, you may not like the line that's been drawn, but we believe it's part of being a professional league."
» On Las Vegas, and a presentation made by Raiders owner Mark Davis (you can find a full piece on the Vegas situation by colleague Marc Sessler here): "We had presentations from all three of the California teams this morning and their efforts to get a stadium built. We also heard from the Atlanta Falcons on their efforts to get a stadium completed for next season, so that was a normal part of our meeting. And I think, as it specifically relates to the Raiders' presentation, it was informative. Factual. The membership had an opportunity to ask questions and the chairman of the committee, Art Rooney, made it very clear that this is something that will get a significant focus from the stadium committee....There's still a great deal of information we need to gather in terms of the circumstances we see in Las Vegas -- the opportunities and also the challenges."
Goodell added that he would expect to speak about the subject again with Davis in December.
» A few questions about quality of play melted down into a central point from Goodell on Wednesday: He expects practice time to be re-evaluated in the next collective bargaining agreement. Under the current structure, there are strict limitations on how much time coaches can spend with their players during the offseason and regular season -- a constant point of contention among current NFL head coaches.
Goodell said that the league received updates on their 2020 plan -- a guideline for the short-term future of the NFL -- and would not be surprised to see expanded discussion on a developmental league. All other major sports -- baseball, basketball and hockey -- have some minor league structure.
"We've talked about it," Goodell said. "We spent a fair amount of time at our meeting on what we call the 2020 plan, which is talking about how we plan for the future and the things we want to accomplish. And one of them is obviously the game and how we improve it. A developmental league could be something we want to do to help us develop players. We pick up on rosters from the start of the season to the end of the season between three and four hundred players. Having those players ready to play as quickly as possible, developed, those are all positive things. I particularly have an interest in it."