This weekend, an anticipated 122 million viewers will be tuning into one thing: NFL kick-off weekend. Queue the heavy trombones, the pulsing beat, and the over-the-top theme song because football season is back!
For the luckiest of fans, 77,000 will be in attendance to see the start of the season kick-off in person across the country in 13 major cities. What about the rest? 185 million Americans claim to be NFL fans, highlighting a discrepancy between those who actually watch the game and those who still consider themselves to be a fan.
The same can be said for NBA fans. Last year’s NCAA’s March Madness Tournament, for example, rallied 10.7 million viewers. It sounds like an incredibly high viewership, but keep in mind that their support beyond the bleachers is much greater. For example, on social media, their video highlights and reels received 18 billion, yes billion, views. Fans are keeping tabs, but not necessarily by watching the game.
Only 30% of sports fans watch an entire game from start to finish
Las Vegas Raiders had the highest viewership with 57% of fans watching the full game
NFL fans watch an average of 43.2 minutes per game & NBA fans 31.7 minutes per game
The LA Chargers had the lowest viewership, with only 12% catching the whole game. The majority of fans watch less than 50% of the game
So what’s the deal? Fans are keen to call themselves enthusiasts, but, as it turns out, aren’t watching that much of the game. We wanted to track viewership across the two major sports leagues, the NFL and NBA, to determine the percentage of the game they’re watching, which teams are getting the most coverage, and more.
NFL Fans are more devoted – watching an average of 43.2 minutes of the game
Who’s glued to the TV screen more? Sunday Night Football fans or NBA nuts? Both games are an entire event. Under technicality, NFL games are only 60 minutes and NBA games are 48, but between timeouts, halftimes, etc. each game can average about 3 hours and 2 hours, respectively. It’s not a game so much as a marathon! And the league coming into the figurative finish line is…
The NFL! As the #1 voted sport in the nation, it only makes sense that its fans are hooked on every minute of it. On average, an NFL fan will watch 43.2 minutes of a game (in play time). Over a season, NFL fans will average 734.40 minutes (12.24 hours) of game-watching. Impressive!
Comparatively, NBA fans are still quite involved, just not for the whole game like their NFL counterparts. On average, NBA fans watch 31.7 out of the 48-minute total. Over a season, including tournaments, they’ll clock 2,599.40 minutes (43.3 hours) of viewing time, when we consider all 82 games each team will play. That’s still a slam dunk in my book!
These are the teams that get the most time in the limelight
As we know, not all fan bases are created equally. Some deck out in merch while some scroll through the post-game highlights. There were a couple of teams in particular that got the undivided attention of their fans, while other teams were left at the 40-yard line.
The most attentive viewers were those of the Las Vegas Raiders fan base with 57% of fans claiming to watch the game from start to finish. No snack breaks around here! In second place for the longest-game attentiveness was the Tennessee Titans fan base at 55%. Over half of Titans fans claimed to watch the entire game. In third place, we head to the NBA side where the Memphis Grizzlies get 45% of viewers to watch their games in full.
On the other hand, the team that failed the most to capture their viewers was the Los Angeles Chargers, where the majority of their fans watch less than 50% of the game. The second most distracted viewers were the Atlanta Falcons fans where only 18 minutes of the 60-minute total gets watched. *In announcer’s voice* Aaaand the Falcons fumble the fan viewership.
From stadiums to smartphones: where are fans finding out about the final score?
Let’s be real. Sports today isn’t so much about flipping channels as it is about scrolling social media for highlights. Gone are the days when Sunday Night Football was followed up by a game recap at your job’s water coolers. Fans remain, but viewership is changing.
A large number of fans across all sports leagues still get the news about the score by watching the game, both on TV and in person, by 46.65%, but new means of viewing are arising. Almost 20% of fans claim to find out the final score via social media. 16% consume sports news and learn the final scores through sports websites or publications. Around 12% of respondents said they stayed in the know by checking sports apps on their phones. Only a small percentage, 5%, learned about the final scores via word of mouth.
Who is only watching the highlights?
“Did you see that game yesterday?” “Yeah, Geno Smith with that final touchdown? Killer.” -A typical postgame conversation where both fans can chat it up about a game they didn’t really watch. Welcome to new-age sports viewership.
The beauty of highlights is it gives you all that you need to know about a game without having to invest the full time to do so. Some were more keen to watch the highlights than others. When we looked at it from a geographic perspective, we saw that South Dakota, Washington D.C., and New Hampshire were the most in favor of game highlights as a substitute. These 3 states averaged 79% replacement of the full game for highlights. Could it be the lack of professional sports leagues in these places? Perhaps. Or their lack of team spirit!
When we asked participants why they didn’t watch the game in full, the majority, 71%, claimed it was a matter of time constraints. After all, 3 hours a couple of times a week throughout the season can add up. Fandom isn’t for the faint of heart, that’s for sure.
15% of respondents shrugged their shoulders and cited a lack of interest. They claimed moderate interest in the sport or team, but not enough to sit down for the whole game. Still, a 13% remainder said they simply didn’t want to pay for the streaming service where they could watch their sport of choice. Lastly, some respondents said they become disheartened when their team is losing and decide to turn it off. One fan claimed, “When *team* is losing, I don’t want to stick around and watch us get pummeled. I just turn it off.”
Viewership trends down with age
The average attention span is 8.25 seconds with that continually trending downwards as the years go on. With attention being divided in more and more ways, we began to ask if this translates to things we love too, like our favorite sports games. The reality is, that keeping the attention of fans for the 2-3 hours a game might take is to the likes of getting a fish to watch football, nearly impossible.
When we make the comparison between Boomers and Millenials/Gen Z, there’s a -57.6% drop in overall viewership from older generations to younger generations. The older generations were more willing to devote their time to a full game, 38% of Boomer respondents, versus the Gen Z fans, where only 20% could commit to a whole game.
We surveyed over 3,000 Americans in September 2023 about sports and game viewership, following external research. The age range was between 18-70 with all participants currently residing in the United States. Of the respondents, 70% were male, 29% were female and >1% were transgender or non-binary.
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