NFL TV Viewing Declines Put Added Pressure On Sports Bars

Sports bars see a lift of 32 percent on football Sundays over non-game Sundays -- but visits were down by 4 percent, says Foursquare President Steven Rosenblatt.

The drop in TV viewership during the 2016 NFL season should be causing some degree of worry as new football season approaches for two parties that are particularly dependent on attracting consumers: advertisers and sports bars.

Broadcasters of NFL games saw viewership slide by an average of 8 percent for the 2016 season, as a typical game was watched by 1.4 million fewer people than last season (16.5 million versus 17.9 million), according to league data cited by ESPN earlier this year.

While some of the causes for last year’s TV viewer fumble by the NFL and broadcaster may be unique to 2016’s specific issues — everything from TV scheduling changes to politics to the new ways consumers can access scores, suggests Steven Rosenblatt, president of location intelligence provider Foursquare, which studied the impact on businesses affected by what he calls “football defectors.”

Source: Foursquare

Empty Barstools

There was a 10 percent decline in people who went to a sports bar more than three times during the 17-week football season, Foursquare data shows.

Even the most passionate fans — those who visited sports bars on Sundays more than six times during the 2015 season — declined even more precipitously: only 40 percent went to a sports bar as often in 2016 as they did during the 2015 season, according to Foursquare’s study, which is based analyzing foot traffic data from more than 2.5 million Americans “that make up our always-on foot traffic panel.”

Women and Millennials were the biggest defectors from sports bars, although all demographic groups saw defection, Rosenblatt says.

“Last year’s decline was driven by all levels of football fans: from fair-weather fans who had previously gone to a sports bar just a few times in the season to dedicated Sunday sports bar-goers who ventured out for more than a third of the Sunday games,” Rosenblatt says.

Source: Foursquare

Grocery Aisle Interception

Instead of going to a sports bar, others locations that appeared to pick up visits from identified football fans were places that cater to Sunday errands.

Foursquare points to the share of in-season Sunday visits to shops and services gaining 3.2 percent compared to the 2015 football season.

Gas stations and hardware stores also appeared to realize a boost in visits from 2015 to 2016. Both sets of locations saw a 12 percent jump in the share of visits from football fans.

Pharmacy visits rose 10 percent, while supermarkets were up by 3 percent. Among the chains that generated higher foot traffic were Shell, Chevron, and BP in the gas category; Kroger, Safeway and Trader Joe’s for supermarkets; and both Home Depot and Lowe’s (Lowe’s share of visits grew 2x Home Depot’s), Rosenblatt says of the group of football fans Foursquare zeroed in on.

“Fans might be shifting their viewership habits by running errands and picking up groceries to enjoy later, while watching the game at home, or perhaps they were out and about, checking scores on their mobile devices,” Rosenblatt says. “If they persist, these shifting patterns may indicate continued declines in viewership during this year’s football season.”

The drop in viewership may also result in a commensurate loss in ad spending for traditional TV.

It’s something marketers should keep in mind when planning their media strategy when it comes to targeting football fans, Rosenblatt advises.

“Additionally, liquor and beer advertisers may want to reconsider expectations for the 2017-18 football season, and work with on-premise distributors and liquor stores to develop new promotional opportunities to drive more Sunday bar traffic,” Rosenblatt says.

The same thinking goes for QSR chains that rely on gametime diners, he adds.

“Savvy marketers should not only weigh traditional, big-dollar TV ad buys but also need to leverage insights about how else they can reach this valuable target audience,” Rosenblatt concludes. “Should a growing faction of football fans head out for groceries, gas and home repair items on Sundays this year instead of watching from the bar, advertisers could score big using other creative techniques and targeting.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.