Saturday, January 04, 2020

Post-peak NFL

The serious drop in attendance hasn't happened yet, but the NFL does appear to be past its peak already:
According to David Broughton and Andrew Levin of Sports Business Daily, the NFL averaged 66,648 attendees at home games in 2019. That’s the lowest average since 2004.

The Cowboys averaged 90,929, leading the league for 11 straight seasons. Fifteen teams saw a decline in attendance, led by the Jaguars (8.7 percent drop), Raiders (7.6 percent) and Bengals (7.0 percent)....

Attendance peaked in 2016, with 69,487 per game. In 2004, 66,328 attended each game, on average.
What is more ominous about this is that it is happening towards the end of an economic boom at a stock market peak. It's only a 4.5 percent decline, but as I noted in Corporate Cancer, the first downward stage is usually a 20 percent drop before it temporarily stabilizes at the lower plateau, with an eventual decline to 50 percent of peak.



Blogger John Regan January 04, 2020 10:38 AM  

A surprisingly interesting issue. I've commented on what now seems like a truly anomalous fact, that as recently as 1960 players on championship NFL teams had to have second jobs. The thesis I have offered is that the growth of professional sports, especially football, was driven in those days by its appeal to the masculine admiration for genuine achievement, especially unheralded genuine achievement, that was increasingly absent from organized society, which to some degree suppresses masculine tendencies like that. So as professional football is increasingly characterized by more feminine tendencies like admiration for celebrity and luxury the bottom starts to fall out. Books could be written. Maybe they will be.

Blogger ar10308 January 04, 2020 10:45 AM  

It doesnt help that the stadium atmosphere has changed significantly in the past 10-15 years. Many NFL stadiums blast Pop and Hip-Hop music during any second that play on the field isn't happening, as an attempt to keep the audience up and excited. However, it ends up doing the opposite because the volume is so loud and so constant that it exhausts the audience and makes the stadium experience much less unique than it used to be. Combine that with $16 beers and $18 hotdogs, most fans would rather watch from home on their HD-tvs.

Blogger Nate January 04, 2020 11:06 AM  

eh... I dunno… TV ratings are up for the second year in a row. There is more to it. there are tons of factors... yes... the politics matter. The rule changes matter. The crappy officiating matters more than people want to admit. The fact that we can sit at home and watch the NFL on 80inch 8k TVs also has a big impact.

The NFL has a lot of work to do.

Blogger Matthew Baker January 04, 2020 11:16 AM  

Im interested in the sport’s coverage (and the cancer of the coverage companies). I thought it was trending to more technical analysis and less soap opera drama, but I’m not so sure.

One team I hadn’t heard a word about all season was the Tennessee Titans. Turns out they’ve been playing all year and now they are a decent playoff contender.

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelphia January 04, 2020 11:18 AM  

I've attended three NFL games in the last five years, and I will most likely never attend one again. It's not that I don't like football, or am not interested in it, it's that the in person experience is not particularly pleasant. The crowds, the parking, the transportation issues, the fact that the game is so complex that is impossible to truly appreciate it live, and, above all, the fairly substantial expense make it a sub optimal experience.

Football is a game meant for TV -- and in that sense it's like golf. NFL RedZone, in fact, took its cue from the way golf is televised, where all you see is the action that matters. It can be a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon while you do paperwork, pay bills, clean up your computer, stuff like that.

I think attendance is just one metric of the health of the business -- an important one, to be sure, but just one item in the revenue stream. Moreover, attendance waxes and wanes with the fortunes of the organization.

As for the "wokeness" of the league, that seems to have died down somewhat from what I can tell, but the standard decline Vox notes may be the league's future. Sports can become moribund -- boxing and horse racing were (with baseball and college football) the top sports in the 1920s and 30s, but they are marginal now, except for the "big" events.

So we'll see. Superbowl viewership and ad revenue may be an interesting tell.

Blogger peacefulposter January 04, 2020 11:36 AM  

ESPN was doing their top NFL QB's of all time the other day. They sat down Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Roger Staubach together to just chat away and discuss their craft and the similarities and differences between them. It was amazing.

There was also a very good interview with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick together. Normally, Belichick is notoriously short with the media, but this time he was quite forthcoming. Some interesting insights into the relationship between Tom and Bill as well.

Blogger George January 04, 2020 11:36 AM  

I think it is a generational thing. My parent's had season tickets to the Colts. I will watch the games on TV but wont go to a game. My sons won't even watch the games on TV.

Blogger tublecane January 04, 2020 11:39 AM  

I notice the league matched the Vikings and Saints up in the playoffs *again*. Are we in re-runs?

Stop it already.

Blogger P Glenrothes January 04, 2020 11:44 AM  

"The crappy officiating matters more than people want to admit" This!!!! Especially in play-offs and championship games where bad officiating on point scoring plays undermines the competitive basis of the sport.

Blogger Jon D. January 04, 2020 11:49 AM  

Once Tom Brady retires there will be pretty much no reason to watch for anyone.

Blogger YIH January 04, 2020 11:50 AM  

Well Nate, at least the Tide managed to salvage it's season (and maybe go to Disney World).
Actually TV ratings are up but game attendance is down (way down).

Blogger Billy January 04, 2020 12:00 PM  

Sometimes I wander if Nate's sole purpose here is to be the contrarian to vox's opinion.

Blogger Tars Tarkas January 04, 2020 12:01 PM  

John Regan wrote:surprisingly interesting issue. I've commented on what now seems like a truly anomalous fact, that as recently as 1960 players on championship NFL teams had to have second jobs.

This almost certainly has more to do with TV than anything else. TV had the ability to massively increase the profitability of professional sports.

Blogger P Glenrothes January 04, 2020 12:04 PM  

I wonder how the number of TV viewers is calculated with so many people opting to watch games at a sports bar?

Blogger Billy January 04, 2020 12:05 PM  

I've got brother whos like that. No matter what I say, he has a different take. I mean I don't like an echo chamber, but damn its just so boring and transparent.

Blogger Calvin809 January 04, 2020 12:06 PM  

I'm a baseball fan and can't watch any of my home team games on TV or the app I pay for because the games are blacked out, but on the other hand Football is on the major networks for free and I don't have to travel to the middle of Minneapolis at night to pay $200 to see a game and $20 for parking.

Blogger The Depolrable Podunk Ken Ramsey January 04, 2020 12:07 PM  

Observations from DC:

The Skins could not give tickets away, and they tried. They were selling $4 seats and still couldn't fill the stands. There's less seats, too. FedEx Field used to be one of the largest going, they took out about 10,000 or so seats because they self-admittedly gave up on ever selling them. Like NASCAR, the stands themselves have begun to shrink.

Sure, the Skins had a terrible year. But this has happened before and you never saw this kind of thing. Last year was a much better for Skins football -- they were actually in the hunt and doing well in the league until their quarterbacks starting getting their legs broken. They managed to sell more tickets this year though, by a little.

Surveying the landscape of Redskins Land, you see football in a sort of retreat across it. Most high schools have dropped their Junior Varsity squads. The schools are taking almost anybody who shows up to try out, trying to fill the slots. Twenty years ago these slots were hyper-competitive and it was an honor and an achievement to make the team.

Mothers concerned about concussions are certainly a factor, but when I look around at the student bodies the big thing that leaps out at me is this: these kids aren't American. Heritage Americans are clear minorities in these schools. Jose, Pajeet, Abu and Li simply aren't as jazzed about American football (or anything American).

How doubly foolish of the NFL, to dis Heritage Americans by profaning the flag and anthem ceremonies under these circumstances especially. Way to shoot oneself in the foot, ticking off the one strong sector of support you truly have!

60% of Los Angeles is speaking Spanish now at home. Of course they cannot fill up the LA Coliseum for the LA Rams. Different story when the Mexican national soccer team comes to town. It's like the El Salvadorean team came to DC, or something. Everybody's out rooting for the "home" team.

Blogger Dantheman January 04, 2020 12:18 PM  

The first downward stage looks like it’s hitting the NBA right now. TNT Viewership is down 22% and ESPN is down 19%. Overall, NBA viewership is down 7%

Blogger Nostromo January 04, 2020 12:25 PM  

Big screen tv's and a big comfy chair, as opposed to traffic and parking, crowds, weather, stadium seating, high food prices, and long lines at the bathroom.

Sometimes you overthink something.

Blogger Mad Italian January 04, 2020 12:32 PM  

I was a season ticket holder for 15 years with the Niners. Started at Candlestick and moved to Santa Clara. I know that I'm an outlier in several respects because I could park at my Mother in Law's house and walk to stadium in SC - and we never buy food at Stadium.

That said - preseason sucks because the idiots are out in force - season ticket holders sell their tickets. At Candlestick it was dangerous because of the literal gangs roaming around.

I prefer the game live, the TV commercials and announcers drive me nuts. And while the stadium music is horrid, last couple of years the Niners did change the volume (down) and the frequency (less) due to complaints. And they did start to rotate between C&W, Rock and Hip-Hop. The changes helped make the experience better.

But food and drink prices are outrageous, the lines are still huge. I've seen people miss a full quarter of the game or more just going to get food and/or beer. How is that enjoyable?

One part of the attendance drop might be the ticket prices and quality of the seats. With Niners move to SC, the center field seats are $500 or more per game with $80k or more PSL per seat. The visitors side is in the sun 100% of the game and there is zero overhang for wet weather. It makes the game harder to attend and watch, except for the die hard fan.

One other interesting wrinkle, as the historically good teams fade and others pop up could that change the attendance numbers significantly?

Anyway - I almost never watched NFL on TV except during playoffs when I had season tickets. And now only when I can catch a decent set of teams (or Niners) on with the local schedule. I'm never going to pony up for NFL TV, I've already cut my cable and only do steaming or live TV now.

Not your typical NFL fan, so take these musings with a wedge of turf.

Blogger borsabil January 04, 2020 12:36 PM  

What will introducing no BS professional athletes into college sports do to the NFL?

Blogger bodenlose Schweinerei January 04, 2020 12:43 PM  

The crappy officiating matters more than people want to admit.

One of the underreported crises in all sports is the decline in quality and especially number of officials. Fewer and fewer people are willing to put up with the abuse from fans, players, and coaches and especially the very low pay required to work one's way up the ladder. I can't say I blame them.

Blogger Timmy3 January 04, 2020 12:45 PM  

Football is such an investment in time and money. Easier to switch the channel and watch the mediocre Rams and Chargers lose on the same day. I’m sure the rich ones are using their precious funds making bets.

Blogger Trump Ally January 04, 2020 12:53 PM  

If it were not for sports betting it would all be dead.

Blogger Geir Balderson January 04, 2020 12:59 PM  

Perhaps, it is time for James Earl Jones to do a movie about Football to pump up interest in the sport? If the voice of Darth Vader can't stir some interest then we know it is mostly downhill from here.

Blogger Silent Cal January 04, 2020 1:01 PM  

Leftists have ruined any enjoyment of televised sports and corporate commies are all evil. Televised sports and Espn used to be a big part of my life but I quit watching a couple of years ago and have found that I do not miss them at all.

I lived and breathed Packer football as a kid during the glory years, but that was a different time when players had to have off season jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Big time sports has proven to be subject to all the evils of any other large organization; more's the pity.

Blogger VD January 04, 2020 1:01 PM  

Sometimes you overthink something.

Except TV viewership is trending down as well. Do try to remember that I am considerably smarter than you are.

Blogger James Dixon January 04, 2020 1:11 PM  

> Sometimes I wander if Nate's sole purpose here is to be the contrarian to vox's opinion.

No, but posting "I agree with Vox" all the time gets old after a while.

> Except TV viewership is trending down as well.

Pro football talk says that's reversed:

Which matches what Nate says above. Obviously they're a biased source, but I'm definitely not up to parsing the Sports Media Watch figures for the year (

Blogger RedJack January 04, 2020 1:20 PM  

Long time college football fan. Long time KC fan.

I enjoy watching the games, but I went to 15 years of Nebraska home games as a kid. My kids have never been to one college game. Why?

Dad gave up his tickets because it became a mandatory donation of $10K to the boosters to get the "right" to buy the same tickets he had since 1968. That is before you actually buy the tickets. He used to drive to Green Bay and KC a few home games a year (KC for me, GB for him). The cost to do that got prohibitive.

Today, I will watch football on TV. My kids could care less. The Mills I have seen don't care, while some of the younger Hispanics are taking an interest, they aren't even following soccer.

My grandpa loved boxing, and talked about how it died all the time. I keep thinking that is what is going on with all pro sports now. It used to be a cheap distraction, now it is an expensive privilege.

Blogger Uncle Maffoo January 04, 2020 1:38 PM  

Bull scheisse.

Joe Burrow will make the Bengals into a contender and take them to Super Bowl LIX.

Blogger Nate January 04, 2020 1:43 PM  

tv numbers have not recovered from the big drop. but they went up slights last year and up slightly this year. so vox and I are both correct.

Blogger Nate January 04, 2020 1:47 PM  

vox... titans or pats?

Blogger cecilhenry January 04, 2020 1:49 PM  

I don't watch the big 4 sports very much.

But when I do follow the NFL playoffs etc, I can get almost all the enjoyment and interest by watching the game summaries that are shown on Youtube etc.

The action in most NFL games is soooo slow now.

Unless its a gathering of people for a social occasion like the Superbowl, watching a full NFL game is too slow and the SJW political commercials have gone from frequent to EVERYWHERE, ENDLESS and UNBEARABLE.

When I see it I must shut it DOWN.

I can watch a NFL playoff game in 15 minutes and get 90% of the enjoyment out of it.

And avoid the propaganda.


Blogger VD January 04, 2020 2:00 PM  

Pro football talk says that's reversed

Hence the choose of the phrase "trending down". It's not in year-to-year decline this year, but the trend is clear.

Blogger Pathfinderlight January 04, 2020 2:03 PM  

Just like the national news media and NASCAR, when Americans start getting the idea that the NFL has joined forces with those people trying to destroy Western culture, they will disappear from the fandom never to return.

Blogger Johnny January 04, 2020 2:20 PM  

If you think of it, Football came in as a major sport with television. Visually it works well on the small screen. What the NFL would seem to be losing is the enthusiastic fans that will pay for a stadium ticket, not the relatively disinterested beer drinkers at home on a couch. And for what it is worth, the XFL is firing up for another shot at it.

Blogger Dantheman January 04, 2020 2:23 PM  

Vox, do you think the NBA will overtake the NFL due to the NBA’s minority appeal in the U.S?

Blogger VD January 04, 2020 2:45 PM  

Vox, do you think the NBA will overtake the NFL due to the NBA’s minority appeal in the U.S?

No chance. The NBA is collapsing much faster.

Blogger Tars Tarkas January 04, 2020 2:54 PM  

Mad Italian wrote:The visitors side is in the sun 100% of the game and there is zero overhang for wet weather.

My buddy used to get tickets for the Eagles games. They were season tickets. His brother was a manager at a car dealership and they would give the tickets away, but sometimes there would be extras and we would go.
The seats were in the shade and situated near a giant opening in the stadium. It would be 60 or 70 degrees on the field and these seats would be more like 40 degrees with a constant cold wind at your back. It was awful.

We would usually try to find some seats in the sun that weren't being used. I'd take those sunny seats any day. There was also no covering in these seats, though I never went when it was raining.

Blogger James Lovebirch January 04, 2020 2:58 PM  

It's possible the poor officiating is trying to influence the outcome of games. There isn't proof, but it does help to explain how such stupid calls and non calls could be made especially in the playoffs. It's quite obvious some players like Eli Manning never got called for intentional grounding.

The major american sports outside the Black Sox scandal would be the only sports in the world to never have players corrupted by the betting houses too. Cam Newton fumbling in the pocket of that Super Bowl and then jumping back from the ball like he's scared of spiders comes to mind.

Blogger TontoBubbaGoldstein January 04, 2020 3:02 PM  

Jon D. wrote:Once Tom Brady retires there will be pretty much no reason to watch for anyone.


My burning hatred of the Patriots will be unaffected by Brady's (or any other player or coach's) presence or absence.

Same with the Cowboys.

Blogger Chris Ritchie January 04, 2020 3:15 PM  

It may be generational. While I've been to only two NFL games in my life, I have tried to go to more baseball games. When I was younger, the baseball game was a better experience. The din of conversation in the crowd, the occasional announcement over the PA system, the barkers selling beer and hotdogs, it was a relaxing experience. Now, with the hot tubs, arcade style venues, and the incessant music blaring in your ears, I haven't been back to a baseball game either. I guess the walk up music is here to stay, but it drove me away from the baseball park.

Blogger Ransom Smith January 04, 2020 3:35 PM  

Vox, do you think the NBA will overtake the NFL due to the NBA’s minority appeal in the U.S?
Liga MX has a much better chance. MLS even, since they already crush the NBA in attendance.

Blogger KPKinSunnyPhiladelphia January 04, 2020 4:40 PM  

VD wrote:Vox, do you think the NBA will overtake the NFL due to the NBA’s minority appeal in the U.S?

No chance. The NBA is collapsing much faster.

Aside from the NBA licking the sphincters of the Chinese, its regular season is meaningless. The 43rd game of Portland's season against, way, the Denver Nuggets has little significance, not to mention little attractiveness.

In international soccer leagues, like the Premier league, EVERY game is meaningful -- for the top teams, international tournaments, for the bottom teams, the horror of avoiding relegation and hoepfully staying in the league, and for the middling teams...well, hope versus the horror. In every game in the EPL, the players are busting their guts.

The NBA? Kawahi Lenoard will probably sit out 10-12 games.

This is one of the reasons Adam Silver is keen on having the NBAs version of the FA Cup. Fat chance.

Moreover, the league is now woke and hypocritical at the same time.

Decline is inevitable, the question is, how far? David Stern successfully turned around the league, and built it into a monster, so it's not heading back to the world of tape delay broadcasts. But its peak has come, and likely will be gone very soon, with a decline to some valley of some sort.

Blogger Mad Italian January 04, 2020 5:22 PM  

@Dantheman...whites were keeping the NBA alive. But changes to the game make it no longer a team sport and therefore unwatchable, plus their embrace of the tattoos and getto attitude turns off the core audience. It's in a death spiral because of that and demographics.

Blogger Trump Ally January 04, 2020 5:33 PM  

Sports will lose out to gaming, social networking, slotfulness, drugs, porn, and all other forms of modern distractio .

It's demise is inevitable. We are in the decade of the last hurrah.

Blogger James Lovebirch January 04, 2020 5:49 PM  


I caught some of a NCAA basketball game and was pleasantly surprised at how crisp and orderly the offenses looked. The NBA looks like street ball on a miniature court

Blogger Damelon Brinn January 04, 2020 5:54 PM  

Yeah, when the China/NBA dust-up happened, I think we got a hint of how the NBA still affords such massive contracts, because it sure doesn't come from heavy viewing. The players treat the regular season like an 82-game preseason to prep for the playoffs, and now most fans see it that way too. The play has been deteriorating since the 90s when everyone wanted to be the next Jordan but didn't have the skills. Now it's a defense- and strategy-free 3-point set-shot contest interspersed with flopping that would make a soccer player blush.

To the extent that wokeness is a factor, the NBA is the wokest of the four major pro sports by far. It runs the WNBA at a loss just because. The only reason NBA players don't all kneel for the anthem--or that they have an anthem before games at all--is that someone in the league office thought ahead and put that in the last contract.

It's going to be interesting to see how the NFL and NBA deal with their black players in the fall of 2020 when the pressure builds for them to go hard anti-Trump in public.

Blogger Doktor Jeep January 04, 2020 6:33 PM  

Seems like a lot of things are past their peaks. Nothing has any vigor left to it. Like everything is used up, and old idea. And the world yearns for new ideas and things to be excited about.

Blogger Ariadne Umbrella January 04, 2020 7:14 PM  

The state high school championships were held at a professional stadium. 60% of the audience were local families, or groups of fans who wanted to see football at a reasonable price. Tickets were $15 for up to three games that day. The food was expensive- $10 hotdogs and $15 nachos.

It wasn't a Hispanic or Asian thing. It was blacks and whites, mostly. The Hispanics were families there for their kids.

The teams had subcontinental Indians. The bands and girls dance squads had Asians. There were single Asian players, but not squads of them.

There were groups of grown men heckling the referees at every call. The call playing was fair. The heckling was personal-the ref's appearance, character, and mother, were all questioned, each call. The men doing the heckling looked to be professionals on jaunt with their friends.

Blogger Ska_Boss January 04, 2020 8:24 PM  

Get woke, go broke

Blogger Akulkis January 04, 2020 10:15 PM  

What would happen if massive numbers of ICE agents, specifically supported by other law enforcement (not just hanging around to "show the badge" like a navy fleet on a "show the flag" mission), started showing up at soccer games with foreign teams?

Blogger tublecane January 05, 2020 12:02 AM  

@5- Like golf? Can you be serious?

Football, was a massively popular sport for decades prior to the invention of television. It was and has remained perfectly conducive to live viewing. If strategy is too difficult to appreciate from the nosebleeds with rock music blaring in one's ears, hardly anyone at home appreciates it either.

That is more than compensated for by seeing large, fast people slam into eachother, the reality of which is heavily mitigated by t.v. Unlike golf there's no walking.

Blogger tublecane January 05, 2020 2:41 AM  

@48- Unlike the Jordan era, there are no great teams in the NBA anymore. Just a bunch of guys surrounding one of two (if you're lucky) superstars. That's a problem.

Speaking of bad refereeing, the NBA is the worse-governed major sport in the field of play. It's anarcho-tyrannical. Basic rules that any kid the playground knows, such as travelling and double-dribble, are enforced on an "if I feel like it" basis. They coddle stars and don't care about, for instance, flagrant clotheslining if it's a Big Game and time to "Let them play."

On the other hand, they don't want the league to come off as thuggish, and as such call technical fouls at the drop of a hat. Heck, they call 'em on players not in the game for cracking a smile.

Blogger John Rockwell January 05, 2020 3:11 AM  

VD wrote:Vox, do you think the NBA will overtake the NFL due to the NBA’s minority appeal in the U.S?

No chance. The NBA is collapsing much faster.

What will be replacing them both?

Will MMA fare better?

Blogger Damelon Brinn January 05, 2020 11:09 AM  

What will be replacing them both?

So far, for many Millennials and Zoomers, not sports. If they do watch, it's through clips on their phone so they can keep up on their fantasy team or talk about the dramatic moments with friends the next day. But they're not investing in a team and settling down to watch games in a way that advertisers can easily capitalize on.

When Xers were growing up, most boys and a lot of girls played lots of team sports, seasonally. At small schools we had basketball and volleyball in the winter, baseball and track in the summer. Bigger schools also had football, soccer, and others. If you weren't on a school team, you were playing sports in PE and in pick-up games. That's not the case anymore. The best athletes get segregated into single-sport year-round traveling teams because their parents dream of scholarships and pro careers. Without them around to lure everyone down to the ballpark in the summer, other kids are more likely to spend their days on their phones. I don't think my college-age nephew has ever played a team sport, and he's not seen as especially weird for it.

You can be a sports fan without ever playing it, but it has to be less likely. And kids who never played team sports at all have no connection to pull them in.

Blogger cecilhenry January 05, 2020 11:25 AM  


Impressive. Now you're thinking out of the box!!

ICE needs this type of thinking and strategizing.

Blogger David Herr January 07, 2020 2:14 AM  

Attendance isn't the best measure of NFL health - it's TV ratings & revenues. I am more interested in seeing whether today's rich contracts get renewed at the same rate. Atendance is very expensive, and the view of the game is not as good as watching on TV. Factoring in getting to the stadium, and getting out after the game, and it's a whole-day affair. Plus, given that the Chargers abandoned a solid fan base in San Diego and that Oakland is dumping it's fans, the poor attendance there is not surprising (Oakland had to cover over the entire 3rd deck to call their games "sold out"). But those are local, not NFL issues. Ever since the League gave itself an enema and defecated Kaepernick off the gridiron, viewership is back.

Blogger Nostra Dame Us January 08, 2020 12:53 AM  

I used to listen to a few Canadian Football League (CFL) players host a local radio show. The one player always ribbed the other about taking a pay cut from college to play in the CFL. I laughed ....but also wondered....

Wasn't Cam Newtons dad..a pastor...caught in an unrelated FBI investigation/surveillance at a rigged casino. He got a new roof on his church and a new vehicle(?).

The casino was used to pay people winners. One way to 'hire' bribes.

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