NFL has a long way to go to saturate the American market

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The NFL isn’t nearly as big a deal as it thinks it is.

Although pro football remains the strongest property when it comes to gathering and holding a live TV/streaming audience, the NFL has a long way to go to truly saturate the American marketplace. That point becomes emphasized every year, when the final numbers emerge regarding Super Bowl viewership.

While it’s great that 100.7 million watched the game, the country has 325.7 million residents. So what were those people doing for four hours on a Sunday night in early February?

Obviously, they weren’t watching the Super Bowl. Which means that two out of every three Americans didn’t watch the game.

How can that be? Maybe I’m too far inside the football bubble, but everyone I know had a specific plan for viewing the Super Bowl, and everyone I know has that plan every year. Everyone. Family, friends, business colleagues, casual acquaintances, people I don’t like but act like I do, people who don’t like me but act like they do, everyone.

For me, the “best days of the year” hierarchy goes like this: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Super Bowl. How can two thirds of the country not even watch the game?

In fairness to the NFL, 149 million watched all or part of the game, so roughly half of the country tuned in. Still, more than half of the country didn’t.

At a time when the NFL is spending plenty of money to export the sport to other countries, maybe more of an effort should be made to sell football to Americans.

63 responses to “NFL has a long way to go to saturate the American market

  1. Good; so maybe Jerry Jones and Daniel Snyder can stop trying to put the game in every other country and just concentrate on the Continent of the United States.

  2. Goodell and the NFL Market missed out on a Golden Opportunity!!!

    The Monday after the SBLIII, Goodell should of held a National Press Conference and declared the first ever – SuperBowl DOUBLE HEADER

    He could of invoked Rule 17 and claimed that the Saints were worthy of a SB appearance and in ‘light’ of the Patriots defeating the LA Rams, the NFL will now host SB LIIIge = PATRIOTS vs SAINTS on February 17th (ge=Goodell Edition).

    The would be N’Breaking NEWS’ on National TV around the World.

    Yes, the entire World would of gone bananas looking forward to this game and Ratings would go through the roof.

    Goodell would look like a true leader and hero and restore INTEGRITY to the NFL.

    Best of all – Tom Brady could do something no other Team/QB in NFL history has ever done – Win Two SB Lombardis in one Season……..

    Think about that………..

  3. Frankly there are too many boring games in the league these days. Way too many field goals and unimaginative play calling. Plus though I prefer the NFL still to college football, the gameday atmosphere is so much better at a college game. The NFL needs to get away from the tired piped in music and have more live music, team cheers, and lower some of the ticket prices. Also watch some of the rule changes most fans don’t like them. The league has gotten too corporate.

  4. everyone I know had a specific plan for viewing the Super Bowl, and everyone I know has that plan every year. Everyone. Family, friends, business colleagues, casual acquaintances, people I don’t like but act like I do


    This screams out the need for a Festivus Airing of Grievances.

  5. The more they pander to the casual fan, they will lose hard core fans. I personally abhor the SB half time show. The conference championship games have long been more enjoyable than the Super Bowl.

  6. Hey Mike this is sooooo easy to answer…. I am surprised at you.

    2/3rds of the country hate the Patriots and since we own the modern day super bowls folks are tired of it.

    And last time I checked… there are about 25 million kids under 10 in your totals up above and factor in the improved economy that has most likely another 15 million folks working … well I don’t have to tell you where the numbers are pointing now do I?

  7. Great article. Here is what is wrong with the NFL:
    1. The Europe/Mexico games suck. They cost fan bases home games. That makes fans mad. Hometown fans pay the bills.
    2. Pre game and post game shows seem to be more about the hosts than the games. NFL Network, FOX, CBS, NBC, ESPN, and ABC are all guilty. (Especially ESPN).
    3. There is no “go to” highlight show anymore. NFL Primetime with Chris Berman and Tom Jackson was must see TV on Sunday evenings. Excellent highlights, and it was about the games.
    4. What ever happened to NFL Films? Steve Sabol and the way he portrayed the game to the public is sorely missed
    5. Nobody wants their football served with politics.
    6. Somebody needs to beat The Patriots. Dynasties are great for the home fanbase. They are horrible for everyone else. Why? ENVY. JEALOUSY. It was the same with The Steelers of the 70’s, The 49’ers of the 80’s and The Cowboys of the 90’s. Boring.

  8. Roger Goodell is a disaster!

    Tagliabue and to a much greater extent, Pete Rozelle, set up the NFL to saturate America.

    Enter Goodell, who alienates most people outside of the 32 owners with his empty suited arrogance.

    I’m convinced that he has driven away at least 10 million old school football fans.

    Patriots’ fatigue shaved off another 7 million fans. The thought of the fake fan caravan in L.A. if the Rams won shaved off another 9-10 million fans.

  9. Between the players, the softening of the rules, and the PR nightmares, the NFL lost it’s purity long ago…and the way society is today, it’s gone forever…

  10. Unless you were a fan of the Patriots (the Rams have no fans really) why watch? Particularly after it was obviously going to be a snoozer after the Rams first 30 three and out drives or whatever.

    The commercials rarely provided any happy surpises and the halftime show, while not the travesty many claim, held all the white knuckle thrill of listening to adult contemporary radio on the commute home.

    But above all, no matter what side you are on most of us are sick of the divisiveness In the country and the game is the tip of that spear. If the actual play is boring, the Super Bowl is nothing more than a reminder of how much everything sucks. I watched, but not enthusiastically and I probably wont again unless my team is in it.

  11. The issue is that the NFL has peeked in the USA. And the league instead of trying to improve the game and get the younger audience to watch is spending time on London, Mexico City, and even China. It’s like watching a train wreck and you can just see the comparison to the down fall of MLB. Today’s NFL game has a target on it’s back. It has become racial, political, fixed, over hyped, and it lacks integrity. All the media coverage on and off the field has really exposed what it is. Simply a form of entertainment which offers little value to the youth in the USA. After this past weekends big game, most over 40 can’t stomach it either.

  12. NFL better be careful. NASCAR used to be a huge draw. But over the past 15 or so years it’s ratings have dropped. Tons of empty seats in the stands. Some tracks have gotten rid of sections of stands in order to look “fuller”. No one stays on top forever.

  13. The low Super Bowl numbers are easily explained:

    The only people in the country who like the Patriots are (A):The residents of New England and (B): Anyone who roots for whoever is winning. The rest of us have two favorite teams: our team and whoever is playing the Patriots.

  14. I took the wife out for a nice dinner and a night on the town. Amazing what you can do in New York when everyone else is watching what turned out to be a pretty lame football game.

    Remember, you don’t owe the NFL anything. You’ll never get that time back.

  15. I’d also like to know how they figured out how many people watched the game. If you have 3 families of four that normally watch games at home all go to one house to watch the super bowl. How to they determine how many people actually watched the game? 12 people watched the game in that house. What would the ratings count be? 4?

  16. Well at least part of the problem was how the NFL completely botched the NFCCG.

    Regardless of whether the Saints or Rams should have won, the complete screw up in acknowledging there was a problem made the issue fester, which definitely resulted in the New Orleans market boycotting the game and served as a major distraction going into the game.

    It also served as a major black eye to the league with the Rams crapping the bed, only scoring 3 points all night. A solid Rams win, or at least a competitive loss, would have salvaged the controversy a bit. This was closer to the worst case scenario.

    The total lack of a Rams fan base in LA doesn’t help matters either. It may be a huge market but they mean less than the middling Lakers, USC Trojans, UCLA basketball, etc.

  17. A lot of people don’t like sports. Any sports. There are a number of people who don’t like spectating. Watching anything. There are a lot of other channels that had programming at the same time as the Super Bowl. People choose to watch other things.

    This isn’t an issue. It’s the real world. Yes, Mike, you’re too much inside the sports bubble.

  18. Perhaps there is a flaw in the way watchers are counted…

    Something an investigative reporter may look into.

  19. Perhaps if the media promoted the game instead of spending most of the year trying to tear down the league and it’s star players because controversy is easier to sell?

    Maybe get back to what worked in the old days.

  20. The league has a serious credibility issue. The Patriots are gaming the system somehow year-after-year and no one has an answer or moxie to get to the bottom of how. The officiating is an absolute embarrassment and key contributor to chosen-one teams staying on top. The league and media are too cozy. I could go on and on.

  21. “everyone I know had a specific plan for viewing the Super Bowl, and everyone I know has that plan every year”

    It’s been years since I could say that. Most of my friends don’t even do parties any more except on the rare occasion when the local team makes it. As an example this year I didn’t even think about the game until probably a couple hours before it started. I had little excitement going in and then the game turned into a monumental bore so it totally matched my expectations.

  22. itsnotcheese2934 says:
    February 6, 2019 at 10:48 am
    NFL better be careful. NASCAR used to be a huge draw. But over the past 15 or so years it’s ratings have dropped. Tons of empty seats in the stands. Some tracks have gotten rid of sections of stands in order to look “fuller”. No one stays on top forever.


    Their growth was completely different. The NFL has been growing for 100 years where NASCAR for many years remained obscure for most of its existence, had rapid growth over a short period of time and went back to what it is, a niche sport.

  23. Another part of the problem that the cities that CAN support a NFL team are being bullied by other NFL owners from getting them. Ex: San Antonio can support a team but Jerry Jones can’t share Texas with anyone (besides Houston) Birmingham can support a team…Alabama loves football…also Memphis. And lets not forget San Diego who got royaly shafted by Spanos. The NFL could grow by 2 to 4 teams IN THE USA, no problem.

  24. I know people who don’t watch. I have friends that a) like other sports, b) are more into the arts or 3) where saints fans. It is good to branch out and hang with others that have different interests. My last girlfriend couldn’t tell Tom Brady from Pat Mahomes but she could name all the judges on the Supreme Court.

  25. That’s not a fair argument. What’s the addressable market for the NFL?

    20 million people of the 325.7 million are under 5 years old.

    40 Million are under 9 years old.

    Another 30 million are over 70? Are they watching?

    What percentage of adults are working during that time?

    The addressable market is probably under 200 million.

  26. As more middle class and affluent parents discourage their kids from playing football they percentage of the US population that has ties to the game will drop.

    The only thing that will help gain viewers is gambling and maybe fantasy football.

  27. One BIG reason was that one of the teams in the Super Bowl this year didn’t belong, and football fans across America recognized that…

  28. I can’t imagine missing a Super Bowl, but I know loads of people who have no interest, for different reasons:

    1. If you live in the Eastern time zone, it goes too late. Especially if you have kids.

    2. For people who are active in the arts, Sunday is a prime time for performances and rehearsals.

    3. I will always watch the Super Bowl, but for real football fans the way it’s produced drains a lot of the fun out of it. Game action is constantly interrupted for the commercials and the halftime show is endless. I know people who (if their team isn’t in it) will skip the game and wait to watch the edited version of the game that the NFL releases the next day.

    4. Casual fans who used to watch for the ads and the halftime show have lost interest because the ads aren’t up to snuff and the halftime show is boring.

    5. The League has done almost nothing to make football attractive to women. Yes, there are many women who love football, but there are more who don’t know enough about the game and don’t feel the NFL has an interest in changing that to attract them. I’ve often wondered why, when the NFL has its own 24/7 network, they don’t do more to reach out to people, especially women and young people, to help them learn the game. You could easily produce shows featuring retired players that would teach football in an entertaining way. Every year I wonder why the League doesn’t do something like this.

    6. Related to #5, there is too much “bro culture” surrounding the game to expect it to appeal much more broadly. The constant Bud commercials designed to appeal to the least common denominator is just one small example of that.

    The bottom line is that there is a lot the NFL could do to broaden the appeal of the Super Bowl and football in general, but you don’t have the kind of minds in the League office or among the owners to be likely to do it.

  29. I didn’t watch. The NFL is wearing on me. They have no respect for their current paying customers. They take games out of the country. They don’t listen to feedback. They don’t correct their mistakes. The product is damaged and questionable now.

  30. I honestly have not watched a game in about 3 years (you know why). I found out pretty quick that I did not really miss it. I can go online and check the scores in a few minutes, which I do, and I have discovered that there are MUCH better ways that spending my butt on the couch every Synday afternoon. The NFL killed itself.

  31. If you thought the greatest defensive performance in SB history was boring, I’m glad you don’t watch. This sport was better when people understood it.

  32. I watched at a party with 12 adults and about 20 kids ages 8-15. Not sure how thats counted in the maths as we watched on two TVs in yhe same household.

  33. A tuned-in TV could be one viewer at home, a family of four viewers at home, 30 viewers at house a party, 150 viewers at a bar, etc. I know ratings do their best to account for this kind of variation but at some point you do have to make an educated guess about how many viewers a tuned-in TV actually equates to. I think this is where the disconnect comes in.

  34. digitalsasquatch says:

    Only the second SB I’ve missed since I first started watching at III; I ain’t even mad. NE is boring.

    I went to bed at halftime. I’m 51 and it’s the first memory I have of not watching an entire SB.

  35. The NFL needs to revamp their “re-location” policy first. The LA Charger fiasco proves that. They are losing too many fans with these “re-locations.” Raiders up next, the Buffalo to San Antonio and the Jaguars to London follow. Once these die-hard fans are betrayed they don’t care any more and don’t come back. Betray the fans and you lose your revenue base.

  36. What they need is 1 more team in LA because that city obviously don’t care about football and what better way to make them care is to give them a bunch of teams to not care about.

  37. You can barely get a group of 4 people to agree on something let alone 325 million. This might be hard for us to believe but some people don’t like or care about the NFL. If my wife were single she probably would have joined my single sister in law and mother in law and watched their normal Sunday night programs not on CBS.

  38. How are these numbers calculated, because you know a lot of people watch at someone else’s house, bars or even church parties. Heck, I even watched the Super Bowl in a hospital waiting room one year with a few other people. So, I don’t think these numbers are accurate.

  39. It’s interesting that the ratings went up all season when people thought that the games were entertaining shootouts and new contenders were emerging (Chiefs, Ravens, Rams, Bears, Colts). This was with Aaron Rodgers having a middling season, Eli being bad, and Steelers being a dumpster fire.

    Then when people saw how the Rams got to the SB and who they were up against, the interest fell through the floor. You can’t drum up interest in the Rams. Sorry. Higher ratings all season followed by the least watched SB in a decade? That’s not a “more streaming” issue. That is a lack of interest issue.

  40. And for the bars/parties/restaurants angle, if that was the true issue, the ratings should not decline year to year. studies people are actually going out less for major events. Food delivery apps and HD streaming are eliminating the need for going out so much. Just check up on Buffalo Wild Wings. Store closings left and right. The ratings are an interest issue.

  41. This article is great. Great because it identifies the thinking that is both prevalent in the media, prevalent in the NFL ownership, and sadly prevalent in the United States. Viewing saturation and subsequent revenues (money) is the goal. The goal of the media, NFL ownership, and even you and me. It’s not about living happily, it’s about how much money we make. If the issue was happiness, the game wouldn’t be about review, reporting, controversy, and gambling. It would champion the players, coaches, and design of the game.

  42. I’m a HUGE NFL fan, but after what happened to the Saints against the Rams with the official’s “Bird Box” challenge, I was turned off. In fact, I took a nap 15 minutes before the kickoff. It’s the first time I didn’t watch any Super Bowl week or pre-game coverage since becoming a fan in 1975!

    Furthermore, the NFL cares far more about London than America. So, that’s part of their popularity problem. They forgot about home!

  43. first, the NFL have a demographic problem;

    fully three quarters of the players are minorities yet the NFL continue to pander overwhelmingly to a distinctly different and make demographic, both in its public image as as well as its administration;

    second, so long as the same team out of a league of more than thirty winds up in the championship game every other year for the past twenty, the NFL have a legitimacy problem to any rational objective mind;

    even the demographic the NFL pander to have grown weary of the same team in the Super Bowl too many times for it to coincidental or happenstance, particularly in a league what prides itself on its self-perceived parity;

    something smells when five men do not get one holding penalty called on them in 90 plays they pass block for Brady, who is simply not the greatest of all time when he benefits time and again from such unseemly largess, nor will he ever be;

    far too many times New England have benefited from coincidences such as this over the years for their run to be legitimate to any rational eye;

    and that’s a black eye for the league;

  44. Somebody needs to beat The Patriots. Dynasties are great for the home fanbase. They are horrible for everyone else. Why? ENVY. JEALOUSY. It was the same with The Steelers of the 70’s, The 49’ers of the 80’s and The Cowboys of the 90’s. Boring.

    And none of them come close to the continued excellence of NE. By comparison, these are blips n the radar.

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