Is the NFL Really Suffering?
Has anyone else had enough of the hyperbolic NFL headlines? I'm going to tackle (no pun intended) the inevitable strength of the love for football and the resilience of the NFL...despite what some news outlets are saying about the inescapable demise of the NFL due to "record-low" attendance and "empty stadiums." I kind of have the feeling those empty football stadiums they're referring to were actually soccer (football) stadiums.
It's almost laughable when I hear people say that the NFL is going to go bankrupt by the end of the year. Those people seriously underestimate America's loyalty to sports teams and clearly don't know how big of a driver the NFL is for the national economy.I know from experience at a previous job that you can put a spin on any data you want, but in the end, logic and facts must prevail.
This is not a piece pro or against everything that is going on, but I was merely curious to see if the data being reported was accurate or not. I will not focus on viewership at home (most common way to watch football) but just look at live attendance at the games. The "empty" stadium argument just didn't seem right to me.
So I decided to investigate...and here's what I discovered:
Below is a chart that I made using stadium attendance data from Pro Football Reference - the main source for all current and historical NFL and football-related data - these are the total stadium weekly attendance numbers in every NFL stadium, in each week, for the past 10 years. It took me less than 5 minutes to put together.
I was curious to know just how bad, if at all, this latest revival of the National Anthem issue was affecting live attendance of NFL games. What I found were numbers that make perfect sense, and actually found HIGHER attendance numbers after the controversy from Week 3 -- this chart only goes up to Week 4 because all the data for Week 5 was not published yet.
All of these points make perfect sense if you use your brain and think about the data logically. I'm used to analyzing economic charts, and this is no different. The difference, I'm done putting a spin on any data -- these are the facts, and I'm happy to know if you have any other theories. Taking something that unites so many people and trying to use it to break the country apart is hardly what I call unification.
Week 4 of 2017 (the week after the latest National Anthem controversy - a revival of a dead issue) had the highest Week 4 attendance in the past 10 years, by far. Why? No one knows for sure. Ticket prices didn't get cheaper in a week, but attendance went up -- people don't care when politics get involved with football.
While attendance for the 2017 started out low (pre-National Anthem controversy revival) keep in mind that the cities of Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Miami, Jacksonville and Atlanta were putting up with varying degrees of impacts from multiple hurricanes and tropical storms. Ultimately, these residents couldn't attend live games because they were busy dealing with more important issues.
Additionally, for the first time in years (maybe ever), two cities (Miami and Tampa Bay) had a bye in Week 1 because neither city was capable of hosting the opening football game due to the impacts of hurricane Irma.
The later games in 2008 were low thanks to the major stock market collapse and the beginning of the Great Recession - despite news reports, attendance in 2017 is STILL higher than even these weeks. Between 2008 and 2013, mid-season attendance figures suffered while unemployment rates remained high, but managed to recover and stabilize from 2014 onward.
Although the numbers are all over the place in each year, there is a determinable trend: attendance starts high (since no teams have a bye in the first 2-3 weeks), then declines and bottoms out during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas due to the holidays and various teams with various numbers having byes, then picks up again in the weeks before the playoffs.
Los Angeles has demonstrably the worst attendance of any city, and there are now 2 teams located there. Attendance in San Diego was just as bad before the Chargers moved to LA, however when the city of Saint Louis lost the Rams, it was hard to establish a new fan base in a new city. In 2 seasons, LA when from no teams, to 2 teams so naturally attendance is going to be iffy for a long time as those teams will struggle to find a new fan base. Everywhere else in the US, attendance is roughly the same year after year.
The other fun thing is that while there are some notable trends, the lines in the chart below are all over the place, meaning attendance at games depends on millions of factors large and small (i.e. city events, other sports championships or games, weather, holidays of different religions, etc.) otherwise these lines would be identical year after year.
Another interesting observation: on October 8th, US VP Mike Pence spent nearly $250,000 in taxpayer money by staging a walk-out after some players didn't stand for the National Anthem at the Indianapolis Colts vs San Francisco 49ers game. Up to you if you think that was a good idea or not, but there have been 3 home games held at Lucas Oil Stadium so far this season: Week 1, attendance was 60,128; Week 3 attendance was 63,351; and Week 5 (the game where Pence walked out) was 65,612 -- this highest attendance this year, but also keep in mind that many were there to see Peyton Manning be honored at halftime. Regardless, a jump in attendance of 2,261 people hardly demonstrates an impact by this walk-out.