Number of Fans “Closely Following” the NFL Drops 24 Percent in 4 Years
A new poll from the Wall Street Journal found that the National Football League (NFL) is losing support from its core audience. Not only that, fewer children are playing football due to concerns over the sport’s safety, which could have long term ramifications for the sport’s future viewership.
The Journal notes that the decline crosses ideological lines, suggesting that it’s not simply related to the anthem-kneeling protests:
The drop in interest spans age groups and the political spectrum—painting the picture of a sport that isn’t just experiencing a momentary dip, but a battle against fundamental questions about football’s future that have been building for years.
However, there’s no doubt that all the negative attention related to Colin Kaepernick and President Donald Trump’s remorseless attacks has had an effect on the League.
A recent poll done by Rasmussen Reports found that one-third of American adults say they’re “less likely to watch NFL game telecasts because of the Kaepernick-led player protests.” Conversely, only 13 percent of respondents said they were “more likely” to watch because of the protests.
And of course, this conclusion is bolstered by the fact that Major League Baseball viewership is at all-time highs: the problem cannot be blamed on declining interest in sports generally. This is an NFL-specific problem.
Rasmussen’s findings are consistent with the new poll data from the Journal:
The problems are taking a heavy toll [on the NFL]. Adults who report following the NFL closely have dropped 9% since 2014, the poll finds. More alarming for the league, however, is the makeup of the people moving away from the NFL in large numbers: Just 51% of men aged 18 to 49 say they follow the NFL closely, down from 75% four years ago.
The declining viewership will doubtlessly translate into decreased revenue for the league. In fact, if current trends continue, the NFL could stand to lose over $920 million in telecast profits from advertising and licencing. This is to say nothing of the declining ticket and paraphernalia sales. All told, the League could easily lose over a billion in profits in 2018.
Perhaps even more worrying for American football is the decline in childhood participation in the sport:
Beyond the scope of the NFL, the poll also revealed that parents are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of their kids playing football, prompted by a surge in information about the dangers of head injuries. In 2014, 40% of mothers said they would encourage their child to play a sport other than football due to concerns about concussions. That figure has now climbed to 53%. Democrats, the poll found, expressed these concerns with head injuries more frequently than Republicans. . .
Even people without kids in their households appear to harbor doubts about football, with 49% saying they would encourage their child to play another sport, up from 43% in 2014. Roberts described this data as “a flashing yellow light,” since robust youth participation in a sport typically correlates with a larger adult fan base.
Fewer children playing mean fewer future fans—and diminished profits.
Trouble looms on the horizon for the NFL, and I can’t say I’m shocked, nor disappointed.