By Mary Cunningham

In case you think the “scandal” regarding the NFL’s response to domestic violence a few months ago has passed, think again.

It may be a contributing factor in NBC’s losing competition with AMC, a cable network!

For the third week in a row and the fourth time this season, the popular AMC drama “The Walking Dead” attracted more viewers in the coveted 18 to 49 age range than Sunday Night Football, which airs on NBC. Per Deadline.com:

In the sixth episode of its fifth season, the blockbuster AMC series drew a 7.3 rating among the key demo while the New England Patriots’ 42-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts got a 6.2. That’s a 15% spread.

The Walking Dead bopped up 4% in the demo from last week. Demo-to-demo in the 9 PM hour, Walking Dead drew 9.22 million, while SNF pulled in 8.1 million with a rating of 6.4.

This begs the question: Should the NFL be worried? Yes.

In September, Variety’s senior TV editor Brian Steinberg declared retaining younger viewers was the NFL’s main challenge going forward. That’s because it’s not just Sunday Night Football that’s suffering, all the broadcasts are.

Steinberg goes further:

The average audience between 18 and 49 for NFL broadcasts across CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and the NFL Network has declined by about 10.6% over the last four seasons, according to Nielsen data prepared by Horizon Media, to about 7.7 million in 2013 from about 8.62 million in 2010. Meantime, male viewers between 18 and 24 watching the sport have also fallen off, tumbling about 5.3% in the same time period, to approximately 847,000 in 2013 from 894,000 in 2010.

The NFL’s biggest fear should be younger viewers tuning out because of controversies within the league. With more information coming out about the damage the game has on players’ brain health, it becomes harder to watch. Hard hits are no longer cool, but horrifying to many.

That emerging science, combined with the damage done to the NFL’s reputation earlier this year over the way it handled ex-Baltimore Raven Ray Rice’s case and other domestic violence cases, as well as Adrian Peterson’s child abuse case, may have also alienated some potential young viewers.

A new poll even found the NFL’s reputation is in such disarray that advertisers may need to try extra hard to set a positive tone in their commercials that will air during the Super Bowl.

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