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Like the proverbial group of blind men trying to identify an elephant by touching random parts of its bodyit's a tree! it's a snake! it's a spear!getting an informed read on the NFL's ongoing ratings slide has been an exercise in highly subjective interpretation. Ask 20 fans why they believe the league's popularity is on the wane, and like the sightless gropers of the metaphorical pachyderm, you'll get 20 responses, ranging from the political (players taking a knee during the anthem) to the pragmatic (the specter of repetitive brain trauma has made watching football an indefensible indulgence).

In the interest of trying to get at the heart of what's actually driving the ratings erosionand whether it's beginning to impact the advertisers that buy time in and around the gamesHorizon Media earlier this winter began an investigation into the matter. The results of the agency's multifaceted study are in, and while the NFL and its network partners may not find the data terribly reassuring, the good news is that many of the factors that have alienated fans appear to be remediable.

According to Horizon Media Chief Marketing Officer Stephen Hall, the results of the agency's study suggest that the recent disenchantment with the NFL may have less to do with the oft-repeated canard about politics and more to do with how the league itself is run.

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