The fall football landscape has been filled with noise this fall. Everyone is talking about the Chargers and their stadium filled with fans of their opponents; and the Twittersphere has been filled with pictures of empty seats across the League.
Beyond the stadium, the television landscape also is trending in the wrong direction. According to Sports Media Watch, viewership declined year-over-year in 9 of the 13 televisions windows where games were played.
What are the causal factors? The big flashpoint has been the National Anthem. It has dominated the headlines. Polling data (Remington Polling) had 64% saying that they do think “NFL players should stand and be respectful during the national anthem.” 25% said no. 11% were unsure. It may be a part of the story.
In addition to the anthem, ticket prices have continued to increase. At the same time, the cost of technology and “skinny” cable bundles to deliver the games has plummeted. In the competition between the stadium and the family room, the cost equation is trendy heavily toward stay-at-home options. It too may be a piece of the equation.
The biggest, systemic issue for the NFL as they look out beyond the current noise, however, may be declining youth participation. The risk of traumatic brain injury has parents opting out of football participation by their kids. The above graph perfectly tells the story and captures the trend. If they don’t play, it is fair to ask what that will mean for their future attendance, viewership and even core knowledge of the game.
Football is still without equal among the Big Four professional sports. The long term question, beyond the current noise, is will they maintain that position in the decades to come?