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NFL exec Brian Rolapp on improved ratings: 'Sports are drawing a tremendous amount of people's time'

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NFL ratings stage a comeback in 2018
Key Points
  • Through the first 11 weeks of the season, NFL ratings are up 4% according to Nielsen, with even higher growth numbers for household share and local media numbers.
  • According to Rolapp, the NFL actually has 19 of the top 20 shows on television this year.
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots celebrates after a first quarter touchdown against the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on November 4, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Maddie Meyer | Getty Images


The NFL is back on track with ratings up in 2018, after two years of decline. The viewership bump follows controversy over players kneeling during the national anthem, public fights with the president and a dramatic contract renewal for its commissioner.

Compared to last year, NFL ratings are up 4 percent through the first 11 weeks of the season according to Nielsen, with even higher growth numbers for household share and local media numbers.

Brian Rolapp, the NFL's Chief Business and Media Officer, told CNBC that ratings fluctuate "week to week and year to year" but they "tend to go up over the long run."

"I think that's the case this year," Rolapp said. "Scoring is up. Margin of victory is down. We have stars on the field. When you put that all together people watch."

Yet Rolapp is also aware that while ratings are up this year, the league is still losing a little bit of viewership from younger audiences.

"Part of that is they are just watching TV less," he said. "To hold one's attention today takes a lot more effort and work… We think over time we will get the younger demographic as we got the older demographic years before."

Some experts had said the increased legalization of sports gambling would lead to higher ratings, but Rolapp isn't so sure about that.

"We haven't seen any increase in engagement yet from sports gambling," he said. "There's a fair amount of sports gambling already built in…what the industry will need to see is if the illegal market can migrate to legal."

Ratings are hard fought. With so much media content available these days, the NFL is not just competing with other sports leagues for viewers' attention. And according to Rolapp, the NFL actually has 19 of the top 20 shows on television this year.

"We look at our competition much broader," he said. "What is really working in media today is live events…sports are drawing a tremendous amount of people's time."

If the ratings dip back down the rest of the season, Rolapp isn't that worried.

"We look at viewership and overall engagement," he said. "That includes television, digital, how they are interacting with content. We take a much more holistic view…we take a very long term view."