Published on July 9, 2017 by Ryan Hughes  

The NFL is king when it comes to revenue generation for a professional sports league. Recent polls show that over 85% of males and 40% of females in the U.S. claim to be a fan of the NFL. The NFL's ability to draw large TV audiences is unprecedented in all of sport. Yet even though the NFL brand seems stronger than ever they are still losing fans --- by the millions! This is of great concern since ticket sales are typically the most important revenue stream for any team or league.

In 2016, the average NFL game drew just 70,050 fans, one of the lowest averages over the last several decades. That along with the below table suggests that this drop of fans attending games has been going on for a while. The table shows that in 2011, 20,336,000 fans attended games. Five years later, that number has dropped by almost 2.5 million fans to 17,933,000. So where have all of the fans gone?

Controversy, Controversy and More Controversy

It seems you can click on your favorite sports website without seeing the latest negative story published about an NFL player or team. The amount of negative press the NFL receives goes far beyond that of any other professional sports league. I believe the attendance has declined because the NFL has been inundated with controversy over the last several seasons.

Fans just don't feel good supporting a team and/or league that has a continual flow of negative stories about its players coming out in the press. The below table demonstrates that most of the decline in attendance has occurred in the southern part of the U.S. This makes sense given the conservative political culture that pervades most southern states. As an example, Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand during the national anthem would likely be particularly unpopular with southern NFL fans. 

NFL Attendance Decline

Online streaming to blame?

Some may think that online streaming is to blame. Due to the recent growth in technology in the past decade, sports have taken a hit in their yearly attendances and the NFL, while being a huge contender and having the top total earnings for all professional sports leagues in the United States, is no exception. Many of the NFL’s fans do not actually have to attend a game to see it and now they do not even have to be home at a particular time to watch the game on television and the use of online streaming is to blame. You can now be anywhere with internet connection and watch a game at any time that you want after it has happened or you can also watch it live! The convenience of not even having to leave the comfort of your own home or take off time from work is playing a huge factor in the drop in attendance. The NFL has done this to itself because they created these multimedia packages and allowed its constituents to be able to access their content online with the NFL Mobile Network. So by them trying to branch out and gain more fans, they have also hurt themselves at home with fan attendance.

The cost of attendance too high?

Another thing to consider is the cost of attending a game may be too high. You not only have to fork over a large amount of money for a ticket but you also have to consider parking, food, drinks, etc. According to Yahoo Sports, it costs an average of $443.93 to attend an NFL game when everything is taken into consideration.

It will be interesting to see how the NFL responds to this significant decline in support. 

This blog post was written by Samford University student Ryan Hughes.


WISE, B. (2012). WHERE'D EVERYBODY GO?. Scholastic Math33(5), 10.

Table: (n.d.). Retrieved July 17, 2015, from