Photo: Wikimedia Commons
The NFL is still the most popular sport in the United States. And thanks to extracurricular activities like fantasy football and gambling, the popularity continues to grow.So when the owners and players were locked in a tug-of-war over how to split their $9 billion pie this summer, there weren’t any concerns about the future of the sport.
But all of this might be masking a looming problem for the NFL. Their die-hard fans are staying home more and more. And while attendance is still strong, it is falling. And there are reasons to believe it will get worse before it gets better.
Attendance in the NFL has fallen four straight years, and is down nearly three per cent since the 2007 season. Also, in 2007, the NFL sold 99.9 per cent of the available tickets. In 2010, that number was down to 94.6 per cent.
Even more troubling is the number of local blackouts in the NFL when the game is not sold out. Blackouts nearly tripled from nine in 2008 to 26 last year. That is 10.2 per cent of the 256 regular season games in the NFL last year.
Of the NFL's $9 billion in revenue, more than $4 billion comes from television rights. And while ESPN's new $15 billion deal for Monday Night Football is a 60 per cent jump in annual fees, those games have very little risk of being blacked out. On the other hand, when the NFL looks at their next deals for the Sunday afternoon packages, they may not see the jump in fees they would prefer.
In 2010, the average cost for a family of four to attend an NFL game was $426.84. And if you are the type of person that would like a few adult beverages while watching the game, that will set you back more than $7 for each beer. That adds up. At home, you can enjoy a nice Dogfish 90 for a lot less than you will pay for a watered-down Bud Light at the game.
Of the four major North American sports leagues, the NFL is probably the one in which television enhances the experience the most. In fact, the NFL has probably made the broadcasts too good. And with more people owning huge, wide screen, HD televisions, the at-home experience is better than ever.
Fans at the games only have limited access to replays, almost no access to commentary, limited highlights of other games and no pre-game or half-time shows.
Fans at the games are limited to watching the game on the field in front of them. And whether it is fantasy football, gambling, or general interest, attending a game means those fans have only limited access to the other games. And depending on whether the game is an early or late kickoff, fans commuting to and from games will miss big chunks of the games before or after the one they are attending. Diehard fans want more of the NFL, not less.
Whether the fans want to watch an out-of-market game, or they want to flip through a bunch of games, or just watch the Red Zone channel, true football addicts are getting more NFL at home than they are at the games. And the cost of the Sunday Ticket package is less than the cost of a family of four attending a game. Not to mention, at home, you don't have to climb over 20 people and then wait in line for 20 minutes just to go to the bathroom.
At a sports bar, you can still experience the game amongst fellow fans. But you also get the benefit of cheaper food and drinks, controlled weather, and most sports bar now offer the DirecTV Sunday Ticket package so that you can watch every game. Oh yeah, there is no admission to get into sports bars.
I used to be a season-ticket holder for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Not only did I attend games at Raymond James, but also traveled to many games on the road. In all honesty, I don't think I have been to an NFL game in the last 5-6 years where I didn't see at least one fight. Are fans drinking more? I don't know. But I don't remember ever seeing fights when I was a kid.
Now imagine at least one fight breaking out at every showing of popular movies. Would people still go to movies? Would parents take their kids? Not a chance.
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