by Rob Toledo Rob Toledo

41% of casual fans say they are watching fewer NFL games this year

It has been an interesting year for the NFL. The sports league has seen one of the strongest bull markets of the past decade, with television ratings, attendance, and thus advertising revenue all skyrocketing in that time.

But it’s nearly impossible to go a day now during the 2017 season without hearing about declining TV ratings, angry advertisers, owner arguments, etc. While it of course seems likely that success might plateau a bit after such massive growth, there does seem to be a tone of “RIP: Good Times” for those in charge of the league.

While we’re not going to try and argue what’s causing the ratings declines (there are plenty of takes on that already), we wanted to find some data in order to find out what demographics of NFL fans are causing the decline, and there was a pretty strong story in the numbers.

From our analysis, it appears that more devout fans of the NFL are still watching consistently, but the “casual fan” is waning.

We polled 1,014 NFL fans, asking them to self-report on their level of fandom based on number of games watched each week on average. Here are the numbers:

Watch FEWER NFL games Watch THE SAME amount of NFL Games Watch MORE NFL games
Hardcore NFL fan 17% 71% 12%
Casual NFL fan 41% 44% 15%

OK, so what the heck is a “hardcore” or “casual” NFL fan? Great question. We split this between people who reported watching three or more of each week’s games on average or those who watch less than one full game per week on average and asked them to report any shifts in viewing habits between this current season and the last two seasons.

The NFL has thrived off of the increase in casual fans, and they’ve tried to market the game accordingly for several years as well. So perhaps with over-saturation, or even following just a few years of watching more football, these casuals are fading or perhaps just burning out a bit. Other sports leagues such as the MLB, NCAA Football and the NBA have seen a rise in viewership in recent times as well.

Between men and women, there was a slightly higher decrease in the amount of women who watch games regularly, but still fairly close to men.

Watch FEWER NFL games Watch THE SAME amount of NFL Games Watch MORE NFL games
Women 25% 66% 9%
Men 16% 70% 14%

Because of the complicated nature of the NFL’s year, it’s really difficult to make any suggestions as to what the NFL should do. They tried lowering the number of commercials this year, but that doesn’t seem to be helping. It certainly seems like there are more flags slowing the game down, but in most cases this is the NFL’s attempt at addressing the perception of player safety, another issue. There have been plenty of botched suspensions for player conduct to the point that these stories might be causing people to abandon viewership. Politically, they’re stuck in a difficult place where any action on protesting likely alienates a large portion of fans on either side of the spectrum. And lastly, there’s just so much else going on in the world right now that maybe attention spans have shifted. Instead of tuning in for games, maybe people are busier paying attention to other things?

We’ll be monitoring this trend closely and reporting more in the future.