The season was marred by constant reports of underwhelming viewing figures which declined by as much as 14% prior to Trump’s election victory on 8 November, before rebounding in the second half of the season.
Overall the average football game was watched by 16.5 million viewers for the season which represents a decline of 1.4 million compared to 2015’s average of 17.9 million.
ESPN, which holds the rights to Monday Night Football, suffered the biggest decline with a 12% drop on last season, while NBC’s Sunday Night Football viewing figures fell by 10%. Fox and NBC each showed 27 afternoon games which were down by 6% and 7% respectively.
League boss maintained that the presidential election was the cause for the slump and remain optimistic for an upturn in the postseason period leading to the Super Bowl
“Presidential elections have always had an impact on our ratings, so we were prepared for a dip this season,” Brian Rolapp, the NFL’s executive vice president of media, told USA Today. “We’re pleased at how our viewership rebounded after the election and are looking forward to what should be a very competitive and exciting postseason.”
The Dallas Cowboys, who topped Forbes’ most valuable sports team in 2016, have been heavily credited with the turnaround thus far having generated strong viewing figures in their four straight primetime games. Their Thanksgiving fixture against Washington generated 35.7 million viewers which represents the biggest regular season TV audience since 1995.
Discussing the team’s marketing value, Fox Sports’ executive vice-president of research, Michael Mulvihill, told the Chicago Tribune: “There’s not another brand in American sports that delivers that kind of impact. [The Cowboys] have always been the most popular team. Now we have a resurgence, and that’s great.”
The league’s ambition to spread the games throughout the week and strike up as many television rights deals as possible are among some of the main reasons which are understood to have tempered fans' interest.