Data don’t lie: the National Football League is losing viewers as effectively as the Cleveland Browns are losing games (0-12 at this writing). As reported by MMQB, Monday Night Football is down 24% from last year at this time, Sunday Night Football is down 19% and Thursday night is down 18%.
Spirited debate about the causes for this dramatic fumble has replaced conversations about the game itself. Popular themes include distraction by the election; market over-saturation (i.e., just too much product); declining level of skill and quality contests; fallout from Deflategate; officiating and punishment of exuberant celebrations; and disgust with Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kicked off the custom of refusing to stand for the National Anthem before games.
Scrambling for answers, the NFL recently commissioned a marketing study as the first step to devising a strategy that would restore the game to its remunerative glory. In an exclusive telephone interview with Bratbreit, Dr. Libby Rae Shone, a business psychologist leading the marketing research team, shared preliminary findings.
“First of all, sports viewership is down across the board, not just NFL football,” she notes. “So NFL-specific factors are probably less relevant to the big picture. We’re more inclined to look at population trends and technology. For example, we think that one reason people aren’t watching football games on TV is because there are other ways access games such as NetFlix that aren’t being measured the same way. You’re losing lots of younger viewers this way.”
What about those protests during the national anthem?
“That’s a stretch. We know it’s become a popular meme and there are certain parties eager to advance that as part of their agenda. But how many fans really care enough about the circus antics of a back-up quarterback on a losing team to stop watching entirely? Surely not enough to create a double-digit decline. That’s political football.”
So preliminarily, what do your studies point to?
“The political angle has one grain of truth: the aging, mostly-white, politically conservative audience most susceptible to this kind of thinking is simultaneously the most TV-oriented and largest declining-interest segment. Sports generally, and football most emphatically, has testosterone appeal, which is one reason women enjoy it. Look at the ads — beer, cars, red-meat patriotism. But when men lose their edge, they lose their interest. It’s sort of a deflation factor, excuse the reference.”
Is it coincidental that the testosterone-challenged population you describe coincides with the same demographic that strongly backed the President-elect?
“That’s not what we’re contracted to research.”