The Missing Point of NFL TV Ratings: Why Watch the Extra Point?


Television ratings for live sports have been suffering.

Local NBA ratings are down 15% from last season. NASCAR has seen a precipitous ratings decline over the past decade. Ratings for the World Series were through the roof, but total MLB viewership is declining. Even the almighty NFL is not immune, losing viewers in every demographic.

And the sports leagues are not taking this development laying down. NASCAR has once again changed format in order lure back viewers. MLB is instituting numerous rule changes in order to hasten the pace of play. The NBA is mulling rule changes which they feel may present a better on-court product for consumers. The NFL is also attempting to quicken the pace of play while also trying to put the “fun” back in the league.

The leagues may also be open to minimally cutting revenue via shorter commercial breaks in order to boost their ratings.

Rule changes previously instituted by the sports leagues reflect these declining ratings, but they may also contribute to them. Many sports fans complain they simply no longer recognize their favorite sport(s). They don’t watch because the game has changed.

Many of these modifications have been due to concerns of player safety and the integrity of the game. Others are to improve competitiveness.

One such change was the NFL moving the extra point attempt from the 2-yard-line to the 15-yard-line. Originally a one year experiment, the NFL deemed this move a success following the 2015-16 season and made it permanent. This despite a drop in success rate from 99.3% in 2014 to 94.2% in 2015.

The 2016 season wasn’t much better, which included a Sunday with an NFL-record 12 missed extra points.

Something has to change. Not because the extra point attempt is still too easy. Not because it’s only a half-measure,  as some have argued. Not because it hasn’t really changed the calculus all that much.

The problem with the extra point is really none of these things. These aspects play into the continuing problem of the extra point attempt, but the ultimate problem is much more basic and goes directly to the problem of declining ratings.

I don’t want to watch extra points.

Before the attempt was moved back, when the success rate was almost 100%, that was fine. I didn’t want to watch the extra point. I still don’t even if the success rate has dropped by 5 percentage points.

There is the odd blocked extra point which adds some intrigue but it’s not frequent and it’s not interesting enough for me to want to stick around for the attempt. I want to change the channel if I’m watching live. If I’m not watching live, if I recorded the game, then I will simply fast forward through the attempt.

An extra point is simply not exciting. It’s not interesting. I don’t want to watch, so I don’t. If an extra point was missed, either due to an errant kick or an opposing block, okay. Still doesn’t interest me.

It’s easy to say, “well then don’t watch”. “Nobody is forcing you watch the extra point”.  But the problem is that occasionally, very rarely, but occasionally extra points matter.

Stephen Gostowski’s missed extra point in the Super Bowl changed the game. As the New England Patriots mounted their extraordinary comeback towards the end of the game that missing point fundamentally altered how they played. It changed what plays they had to call. The calculus of the game was different based solely on that one missed extra point.

That missed extra point put the outcome of the game in further jeopardy for the Patriots and perhaps made for a more exciting and interesting game, but in retrospect that’s only a good thing because the Patriots comeback was successful. If the Atlanta Falcons retained their lead and won the game that missed extra point would have been simply that, another missed extra point.

But in either case, did I need to see that attempt? Even considering the Patriots won the game, despite that missing point, I didn’t need to see the miss. The score reflects that Gostkowski missed, whether or not I watched him miss.

Make or miss, I don’t want to see it. And I don’t. That’s the fundamental problem.

I’m not advocating getting rid of the extra point or any other rule change, even though it does seem like the NFL wants to eliminate kickers altogether. I’m simply saying I don’t want to watch extra points.

Move the attempt back to the 25-yard-line. Make it more difficult to successfully complete. I don’t want to watch that.

In 2016 the success rate of field goals from 40-49 yards was just over 75%. You want to watch kickers miss almost a quarter of their extra point attempts? I don’t.

The problem with the extra point is that it’s fundamentally broken. One point is not worth my time or attention. I don’t have the patience. Maybe that’s my issue, but it’s also the NFL’s problem because it means I’m not watching. And the NFL can’t make me watch, no matter how hard they try to make the extra point more interesting/exciting/competitive.

The extra point has one essential problem: I don’t care. So why watch?

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