The NFL took a ratings hit for the second straight season, dropping nearly 10 percent. So Roger Goodell has yet another challenge on his hands.
“I don’t know if it’s a decline in popularity,” the commissioner said when asked about a more general decline in sports popularity during a Q&A conducted by Macy’s executive chairman Terry Lundgren at The Economic Club of New York’s luncheon Tuesday in Manhattan. “I think we live in a much different world.
“We focus an awful lot on millennials and Generation X. This isn’t probably the right term, but they’re probably more distracted. They have more options. They have more opportunities to go get information whenever they want. We have to adjust as a league to that. We have been focused on that.
“That’s why we’re focusing on new deals with Verizon, as an example, to make our games available on handsets and phones and tablets so that our younger fans, in particular, who are more likely to watch on a tablet or phone, have that available to them . . . You have to make your product accessible . . . That’s the challenge for us is that our fan base, our society, technology, is all changing.”
There are also other theories about the downturn, among them that fans have been turned off by the players’ anthem protests and by the concussion/CTE controversy.
But Goodell, who received a five-year extension last month worth up to $200 million, lauded the league’s investment in concussion research and the steps taken over player safety, calling it “our No. 1 priority.”
“We’ve had close to 50 rule changes in the last 10 years that have all been designed to make the game safer,” Goodell said.
The game is still enormously popular despite the ratings drop. Goodell said, “We’ll probably have close to 200 million fans watching the Super Bowl in less than two weeks. You can’t get that anywhere . . Our content is in great demand because we make it special and want to keep it that way.”
He credited fantasy football as a help to the cause.
“I got a surprise a year ago when my daughters came home and said, ‘Dad, we’re playing fantasy football,’ ” Goodell said. “ . . . It creates a reason to watch.”
More than 90 percent of NFL fans never attend a game, according to Goodell. But whether or not they’re watching in person, Goodell said the “game presentation” for the typical three hour-plus event is important.
“So we’re trying to find ways to take what we call ‘the downtime’ out of the game,” Goodell said. “We may not necessarily get the game to 2:30 — we could — but we want to make every aspect of that entertaining.”