The 2014 season could not have gotten off to a worse start for the NFL, as the league has been embroiled in controversy surrounding its players and domestic violence arrests. The opening week ended with the video of Ray Rice punching his wife being made public, and Week 2 involved Adrian Peterson’s arrest for a felony child abuse charge.
The high-profile cases involving Rice and Peterson have drawn attention to other players that have been arrested for domestic violence. The league has been widely criticized for the way it’s handled the situations, and many in the media have called for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to resign.
Despite the public relations nightmare that the league finds itself in, early signs indicate that the NFL will face little to no repercussions from the recent scandals. During the most recent slate of games, the NFL proved to be as popular as ever.
Just three days after the Baltimore Ravens released Rice, they set record ratings for their division matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers. In CBS’s first "Thursday Night Football" broadcast in eight years, the game’s viewership was up 108 percent from Week 2 of last year. Even though Thursday’s game was a 20-point blowout, it still was watched by more people than the 2013 game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots that was decided by just three points.
Ratings remained strong on Sunday, despite the revelation that Peterson had been charged and arrested for beating his 4-year-old son. On “Sunday Night Football,” the contest between the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears drew a 14.0 overnight rating, according to Austin Karp of SportsBusinesss Daily. The rating was up three percent from last year’s Week 2 “Sunday Night Football” matchup, which featured the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
The final game on Sunday’s NFL schedule even featured one of the players that was recently arrested for domestic violence. San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald continues to play for the 49ers after being arrested on suspicion of domestic violence on Aug. 31. He has not been charged, but the Santa Clara district attorney's office continues to investigate the possibility that McDonald assaulted his pregnant fiancée.
Each year, the NFL further cements itself as the most popular sports league in the United States. Viewership continues to rise, and the league is making more money than it ever has. Those who cover the NFL don’t believe the recent events will do much to affect the league’s popularity.
The NFL will bet that literally any outrage will last a week, maybe two, but it'll blow over. And the NFL ain't wrong.
â€” Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) September 15, 2014
@jasonhaber I'll believe it when I see people stop showing up or ratings dip. This country is addicted to the NFL.
â€” Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoNYDN) September 13, 2014
Diehard fans of the sport have proven that they won’t stop supporting the NFL because of its issues involving domestic violence. While the NFL might not see a difference in the regular season, it’s possible that a small portion of the usual audience could stop watching in the league’s biggest game.
While the NFL is popular each week, it sees unmatched viewership for the Super Bowl. An average of over 111.5 million people watched the game in February, making it the most-watched TV program in U.S. history.
The Super Bowl is such a big event that it draws in both casual and non-football fans. It’s possible that some of those fans that don’t watch the NFL week-to-week could refuse to watch the game, though there’s no evidence that millions of Americans will boycott the event.
The string of domestic violence arrests isn’t the only controversy that the NFL has dealt with in 2014. Calls for the Washington Redskins to change their team name have increased over the past year, but the franchise continues to thrive despite its refusal to do so. On Sunday, Washington recorded its NFL-best 386th consecutive sellout, and the team’s appearance on “Monday Night Football” in the preseason was ESPN’s most-viewed NFL exhibition game in five years.
The NFL might not reign supreme forever, and some have predicted that the league’s demise is not far away. However, it doesn’t appear that recent events will do much to hurt the league in the long run.