The future is here. Phones can now be turned into portals of virtual reality. Watching your favorite sports team is now an experience that can happen on the go, without a television unit, in any location. Social media is utilized by millions. It is in this new world that the National Football League (NFL) has lost its claim as “King of the Hill” amongst fans.
Nowhere else is the NFL’s decline more evident than in the viewership ratings during games. These television ratings are down as much as 21%, around four million people less than 2015, and is the first viewer decline season in over twenty years. This downturn is unprecedented, especially for the NFL. It’s unlikely pre-2016 levels will return for the remainder of the regular season and post-season.
A quick look around the Principia campus on Sunday afternoons yield the same results. Televisions that once hummed with St. Louis Rams games now sit unused. Conversations during treat night no longer begin with the day’s football action. Team pride is no longer blatantly obvious. This semester, football just hasn’t been a hot topic for Principia college students.
These observations come from both personal experience and from asking the scattered few men who still gather in Ferguson to watch games on DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package. There simply isn’t the same number of fans that once existed on campus. And Prin’s NFL interest decline isn’t an isolated case.
There are quite a few reasons as to why football has experienced its loss of media spectators. One of which has been this election season. Almost 84 million Americans tuned in to watch one of the three Presidential debates, though since the debate cycle has ended, their NFL viewership has not returned.
Another has been athletes who have taken to kneeling during the National Anthem in protest of the police brutality on black Americans, started by Colin Kaepernick. As press attention dwindled on the protests, fans seemed to lose interest. Potentially they are offended enough to never watch football again, but that seems unlikely, and the numbers to support the claim just don’t exist.
The invention of the 15-second highlight video has also aided in the NFL’s fan loss. The limitless entertainment of the internet, the ability to do five things at once on a phone, the simple truth that generations are into different things – these are all to blame for football’s lack of viewership.
The average NFL fan is 55 or older, Caucasian, and male. There are groups that can be persuaded into supporting football (23-45 year olds and women), but there has been no effort to build up larger legions of fans or to entice them to come to games mainly due to high cost of ticket prices, apparel, and stadium food.
London, Mexico City, and international cities have been the focus of the NFL in a pursuit of global followers to regain the ones they have lost domestically. Hard hits are steering mothers and fathers away from letting their children play football. Instead, the rapidly expanding markets of lacrosse and soccer grow popular. In a world where a YouTube video longer than 10 minutes seems like a big time commitment, it doesn’t seem feasible for anyone to sit through a three hour long football game.
The NFL has a problem that isn’t going to be healed by the conclusion of this election or the beginning of football abroad. It is losing the die-hard fans that were the sport’s foundational line for decades. The rules are unclear and the officials are over-calling games. The fun, dynamic, both loved and hated players are being muted. The children who are looking for role models in athletics are looking to Messi, Ronaldo, Connor McGregor, Anthony Davis, the Cubs, and to players with attitudes and aptitude for the game.
If the NFL plans to survive, prosper, and grow, it will need to attract the people who are on college campuses. It will need to stop allowing players to escape the law because they are talented. It will need to deliver the highlights of the week to our phones in 15 seconds or less. Above all else, it will need to be fun, interesting, engaging, and something worth talking about.