NFL drops to “least liked” sport

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The National Football League had surpassed Major League Baseball as “America’s game.”  But no more.

From August to September, the favorable ratings for the NFL dropped from 57% to 44%.  And the NFL now has the highest unfavorable rating–40%, the lowest of any major sport.

So reports The Washington Examiner‘s Paul Bedard in Shock poll: NFL now least liked sport, core fans down 31%.

The major beneficiary of the NFL’s fall from favor is baseball.  (Though MLB actually led the NFL slightly in August too, with 61% favorable.)  Here are the September numbers for the major sports:

  • MLB/63 percent favorable to 16 percent unfavorable.
  • College football/51 percent favorable to 21 percent unfavorable.
  • NBA/46 percent favorable to 28 percent unfavorable.
  • College basketball/45 percent favorable to 25 percent unfavorable.
  • NFL/44 percent favorable to 40 percent unfavorable.

Among professional football’s core audience–men–the numbers are even more dramatic.  As a whole, the NFL’s favorability among men dropped from 68% to 45%, But among what used to be football’s biggest NFL fans–men aged 34-54 –the NFL’s popularity dropped from 78% to 45%, a drop of 31%.

Observers blame the backlash among fans on players’ National Anthem Protests.  Since such a precipitous drop-off took place in one month, the month this became an issue, this is probably a valid conclusion.  Still, television ratings have been dropping for some time.  In fact, we discussed that decline way back in December of last year.

 In an article not related to the favorability poll, Sports Illustrated observes that Monday Night Football ratings have dropped 24% from last year.  Sunday Night Football has dropped 19%, and Thursday Night Football is down 18%.  Here are some theories:

The NFL and the networks changed the rules and the conduct of the game to make it all about scoring in an effort to boost ratings and attract the casual demographic. And so these new NFL fans and fantasy fans only care about scoring. There is no need to watch an entire broadcast when all you care about is, “Who scored?”

With the RedZone channel, Twitter, highlight shows and a hundred fantasy outlets saturating the airwaves, ratings are down for traditional broadcasts, and they will continue to decline because it’s a lousy way to consume NFL football. The old-timers watched an entire game but are tired of all the commercials, while the newly minted fans happily consume the NFL in short bytes from non-broadcast sources. Why would anybody sit through three hours of commercials when they can get all the scoring plays with an investment of 15 minutes?

The owners, league and networks fell in love—not with their best, most loyal customers, but with the people who weren’t their customers yet. That was a strategic mistake on their part, thinking they could keep the fans they already had AND change the game enough to win over the new set of fans.

Well, I suspect there may be some less subtle reasons for the popularity decline, in addition to the protests and the politicizing of the game.  Things like crime, concussions, new stadium blackmail, team soap operas.
How about you?  Have your favorability ratings for the NFL slipped?  If so, why?
Illustration from Michael Tipton, Flickr, Creative Commons License
 
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