Despite NFL controversies Colts TV ratings on the rise

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If anyone is boycotting the NFL over recent controversies enveloping the league, they must not be living in central Indiana.

The team’s only home game so far this season was a sellout, and local TV viewership for its three games is running very near to what it was over the first three games of 2013.

The 2014 season opener at Denver—a Sunday night game—scored a 38.1 rating, according to New York-based Nielsen Media Research. That means about 409,000 households in the metro Indy area watched the Colts battle the team led by their former quarterback, Peyton Manning. Last year’s season opener, a 1 p.m. Sunday game against Oakland, scored a 36.7 rating.

Given that this year's opener was a prime-time matchup against Manning’s Broncos, I might have predicted that the local viewership would have been a little higher. But a 38.1 is hardly alarming. It was, after all, the highest-rated TV show in this market on that week.

The Colts’ second game—a Monday night home opener against Philadelphia—earned a 35.9 rating (348,848 households). That’s slightly better than week two of last year, a 1 p.m. Sunday game against Miami that earned a 35 rating.

The first two games of the Colts 2012 season earned ratings just below 33.

The only slight disappointment for the Colts in terms of TV ratings this year came in week three. On Sunday, the Colts’ 1 p.m. Sunday game at Jacksonville tallied a 33 rating (353,760 households). That’s below the 37 rating (396,640 households) the Colts earned in week three last year.

But that decline likely has more to do with the opponent and timing of the game than any ongoing scandals involving the NFL. Last year during week three, the Colts played a 4:25 p.m. game against one of the NFL’s best teams—San Francisco. This year, they played the early game—1 p.m. on a beautiful, late-summer day—against arguably the worst team in the NFL, Jacksonville.

Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward said he hasn’t heard any backlash from fans or sponsors over the recent controversies in the league involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or other NFL players involved in domestic violence or child abuse.

Lucas Oil CEO Forrest Lucas is among those who are largely unfazed by the issues swirling around the NFL. Lucas’ company paid the Colts $121.5 million to have his company’s name on their home venue for 20 years. Despite the recent furor over the league and its players, he has no regrets with his NFL-related sponsorship.

“I don’t like what [Ray Rice] did at all, but I don’t think it should be destroying the sport,” Lucas said.

He added that he is not convinced that monitoring the “personal activities of every single [NFL] player” is the job of the league or team owners.

“I don’t want to call this a witch hunt, but a lot of people are asking the team owners and league executives to do something that isn’t really their job,” Lucas said. “A lot of this should be left up to law enforcement and the courts.”

Lucas added that the media coverage of recent player actions is “making all football players look like gangsters and bullies, and I don’t like that [portrayal].

“There are a lot of good people in this sport,” Lucas said. “As a sponsor, I’m not too worried about this.”

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