After briefly increasing, the NFL is back to declining in viewership, and this decline is becoming quite drastic. As shown from the charts below, in just one-year TV viewership of NFL games has decreased from 136,279,000 to 128,481,000 while attendance for these games has decreased from 20,438,000 to 17,933,000.
The industry is aware of this problem and has put forth many efforts to change this. The question is, are these attempts helping the NFL or hurting it more?
The Fantasy Phenomenon
The NFL has been using fantasy football to generate more revenue and entice a new generation of fans. According to sportsmarketanalytics.com, in 2015 36,273,000 of NFL fans participated in fantasy football leagues. Fantasy’s goal is to be a driving force in NFL viewership and fan involvement. The NFL believed that the concept of fantasy football would push not only merchandise sales, but also interest in the league as whole.
For a while, this is exactly what it did. Participants would get invested in their leagues, and make boastful purchases when their leagues or players were successful. Fantasy was also successful in attracting a new demographic of interest. People who may have only been slightly interested in the NFL before, now have an interesting and competitive way to get involved. This captured casual fans that the NFL was looking for; fans who were never completely interested in the NFL until they had this reason. If you really think about it though, how is this a positive thing? Is it going to be beneficial in the long run for the NFL to gain all of these fans who are only interested in the fantasy phenomenon? Probably not. It is simply not creating loyal, invested fans who attend or view games religiously.
Speedy Synopses for the Casual Fans
I believe that another major force in the NFL’s declining viewership is the emergence of the RedZone channel, Twitter, highlight shows and other mediums that allow anyone slightly interested in the NFL a speedy synopsis of the game. Interested parties can tune in for fifteen minutes and get all the scores and major plays they need. Ratings are down for traditional broadcasts because they are simply not as convenient as these indirect competitors like the RedZone and Twitter.
This brings back up the discussion of fantasy football. Why sit through three-and-a-half hours of a game plus endless commercials when you are only interested in your fantasy league? It is much more appealing to this new market of casual fans who are only interested in the highlights and score to watch a recap or get the score from twitter.
In addition, fantasy football requires participants to be concerned about more than one team. With so many different players and teams to keep up with, catching the highlights of each is much more convenient than watching every single three-and-a-half-hour game.
The NFL wanted more casual fans, and that is what they got; casual fans who don’t care enough to watch an entire game.
Are these casual viewers really the way to go? The owners, leagues and networks traded in their best, most loyal customers with people who were not their customers yet. I personally believe that was a strategic mistake on their part.
The only way to make these “casual fans” beneficial to the NFL viewership and attendance, is to make watching an entire game appealing and as convenient as watching fifteen minutes of highlights.