“We have been led to believe the N.F.L. and E.P.L. were immune to these trends, but it turns out they aren’t,” said Rick Gentile, a former CBS Sports executive producer who now runs the Seton Hall University sports poll. “This isn’t a fatal blow, but it is a wake-up call.”
While it may be too early to fully determine whether the declines are a hiccup or a serious setback, they are large enough to prompt league executives and team owners to confront the uncomfortable possibility that their leagues have hit their peak.
Publicly, the leagues contend that their businesses are fundamentally sound and that any declines in ratings have been caused by temporary factors, like the raucous presidential campaign season in the United States and the lack of a compelling story line in the Premier League, which last season got a jolt from Leicester City, the ultimate rags-to-riches champion. Viewing habits, the leagues say, will rebound.
“We recognize that network television is still dominant, and we believe it’s going to be dominant going forward,” Roger Goodell, the N.F.L.’s commissioner, said last week. “And it’s where the…