NFL Viewership Trends

NFL Viewership Trends

Since 2021, the National Football League (NFL) has experienced a remarkable surge in viewership, and each season, they are setting new milestones and breaking records as their viewership trends continue to rise. In 2023, NFL regular season games averaged 17.9 million viewers, tying the second-highest mark since it was first tracked in 1995. This has been driven by strategic initiatives, including international exposure, streaming, the meteoric rise in sports betting, and capitalizing on trends and storylines in the media. This upward trend reflects the NFL’s ability to capture the attention of audiences worldwide while adapting to our ever-evolving media landscape.

The International Series’ Impact on NFL Viewership Trends

On October 2, 2005, the NFL hosted its first regular-season game outside of the United States when the San Francisco 49ers played the Arizona Cardinals in Mexico City. This game also set a new record for attendance for an NFL game. Two years later, the NFL officially launched the International Series with the Miami Dolphins playing the New York Giants in Wembley Stadium in London, England.

More games at Wembley followed, as well as games at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, back to the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, and other locations worldwide. This movement has been instrumental in growing the viewership and overall popularity of the league.

One unique aspect of the International Series is the deal that the Jacksonville Jaguars have with the NFL and Wembley Stadium. From 2013 through 2019, the Jaguars played one regular season game in Wembley Stadium every year, then renewed the deal in 2022. Owner Shad Khan has been one of the biggest advocates of establishing a presence in London. He has stated that it feels like a home game whenever they play in the city, as their colors are present, the energy is present, and there are a whole lot of #16 (starting Quarterback Trevor Lawrence) jerseys in the stands. The NFL could follow the same model as they expand into Germany and Brazil, designating a team to play in each country once a year to hopefully develop the same deep relationship with fans that the Jaguars now enjoy with the British.

The NFL has already made significant strides in bringing American football to audiences beyond U.S. borders, establishing fan bases all over the world, and increasing the already-large popularity of the game.

The Rise of Streaming Leads to Massive NFL Viewership Growth

As technology advances, the way we do everyday things continues to change. One of the biggest changes involves television. The advent of streaming services, such as Amazon Prime and Peacock, has limited access to NFL content by making certain games exclusive to these services.

This past year, the NFL Sunday Ticket moved to YouTube TV, while Thursday Night Football was exclusive to Amazon Prime, and Sunday Night Football could be watched on Peacock. Since fans used to be able to watch every game on the same platform, this change created a lot of unhappy customers and complaints throughout the season. The buffering that lasted all season on YouTube TV was also an issue, at one point getting so bad that even LeBron James had to chime in online. And yet, there were over 1.3 million subscribers to Sunday Ticket this season.

Streaming services have revolutionized the dynamics of sports broadcasting, offering viewers unparalleled flexibility and convenience in accessing live NFL content and their favorite shows. Rather than having to record shows or be home in time to watch, fans can now watch whatever they want, whenever they want. It’s no surprise that the 16 games on Amazon Prime’s Thursday Night Football coverage averaged 11.86 million viewers, a 24% increase from the 2022 season. Many fans purchase only what they need for the NFL season because, unlike with cable, they have the freedom to consume only the programming they are interested in.

The writer’s strike in 2023 was another factor that went under the radar this season. In April, both the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) went on strike, halting Hollywood’s productions until November. This six-month stretch caused there to be less scripted programming available, opening the door for more and more sports. Monday Night Football had its best season since 2000, averaging 17.36 million viewers, a 29% increase from 2022. ABC broadcasted NFL games for all 18 weeks of the regular season, 11 more than last. The most mind-boggling stat is that 96 of the top 100 TV broadcasts were sports, and 93 of those top 96 were NFL games.

The inclusion of NFL games on streaming platforms has augmented the league’s reach. Fans can seamlessly stream live games on various devices, from smartphones to smart TVs, thereby enhancing accessibility and expanding the NFL’s global footprint.

Trends and Pop Culture Related to NFL Viewership

This year, the NFL has worked to engage audiences by pushing trends and acknowledging references online and in the news media—using the storylines promoted by the media, in other words. Of course, the number-one story that everyone in the world heard about and could not avoid was Taylor Swift.

Taylor Swift was already having a very big year with her worldwide “Eras” Stadium Tour when she began a relationship with one of the biggest stars in the league—Travis Kelce. He is arguably the best player at his position and, as a member of the back-to-back Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs, among the most prominent players in today’s game. The NFL took full advantage of this relationship, and social media, game commentary, and even local news broadcasts filled up with speculation on whether or not Taylor Swift would be in attendance for the Chiefs game.

Most people remember the famous script commercial starring Keegan Michael Key and Kirk Cousins—it depicts a meeting to supposedly work out the script for the upcoming NFL season. The commercial makes a joke out of rumors that NFL football is scripted, a ridiculous idea since there’s no way to script and stage professional sports games, especially with millions of eyes on them at all times. So the NFL, rather than ignoring or denying the rumor, made a joke of it. Even the players have embraced the joke. Former Pro Bowl running back Arian Foster sarcastically claimed that the NFL players are extremely dedicated to the script. Matthew Judon asked who wrote the script for the loss in Vegas last year, and Marlon Humphrey joked that giving up 200 yards to Ja’Marr Chase was all a part of the script.

The NFL’s decision to reference many jokes, memes, trends, and pop culture has generated more sustained interest in the league and made things more entertaining for fans. Getting people talking is an effective way to increase viewership.

Legalization of Sports Betting and Its Relationship to NFL Viewership Trends

The integration of Vegas into the sports world has added an unprecedented amount of revenue and many new viewers to the NFL. According to research at UNLV, Las Vegas generated $1.845 billion in economic activity from out-of-town visitors in the 2022 fiscal year. Currently, Vegas is home to the NFL’s Raiders, the WNBA’s Aces, and the NHL’s Golden Knights—and will very soon be the home of the MLB’s Athletics. Next on the list is the possibility of a new NBA team. With 17 new sports facilities and arenas, Vegas is busy establishing itself as one of the sports capitals of the world.

Another influence that stemmed from Las Vegas is the phenomenon of sports betting. In 1931, Nevada became the first state to legalize gambling, including sports betting. It was not until 2018 that other states began allowing sports wagers. Today, 38 states have legalized sports betting (as have Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.) and there are countless apps and sportsbooks to participate in online. The NFL then recognized the potential in sports betting and in April 2021, they came to a deal with three separate sportsbooks, expecting to generate millions in revenue and pull in more viewers. The NFL is the most popular major sports league in America in terms of both revenue and viewership, and it has now legalized sports betting, which will take those numbers “to the moon.”

This year, The American Gaming Association (AGA) estimated that around 68 million Americans wagered $23 billion on the Super Bowl, a 44% increase from a season ago. Viewership and revenue go hand-in-hand, and fans are more likely to stay tuned while they have money on the line in the form of an active bet. With legalized sports betting continuing to expand to more states, viewership will only increase.

Wrapping Up NFL Viewership Trends

The NFL’s continued rise in viewership reflects a convergence of many factors, ranging from its integration with the international market and the proliferation of streaming services to the league’s effort to keep up with social media trends and the legalization of sports betting. As the NFL continues to evolve and adapt to changing consumer preferences, its appeal as America’s premier sports league remains undiminished, bringing in a new era of unprecedented growth and innovation.

 

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