The NFL is losing young viewers by the millions, as ratings for Super Bowl 55 show that the league has lost viewers under the age of 49 for the ninth straight year.
According to Sports Media Watch, Super Bowl 55 saw a decline in the 18 to 49 viewer demographic for the ninth year running. The 2021 Super Bowl lost another 37 percent of viewers in that age demo over last year’s audience.
But this year’s number is just another dip compared to past years. The game lost 43 percent in young viewers four years ago and 51 percent in 2008, the site reported.
Sports Media Watch also posted a graphic showing the decline over the years:
Here’s the long-term trend. A steady erosion, both in raw numbers and share of audience — even in years when the Super Bowl was setting viewership records (2015 audience of 114.4M is all-time high): pic.twitter.com/YAiT8wrwl7
— Sports Media Watch (@paulsen_smw) February 10, 2021
The massive decline in young viewers does not portend well for the longevity of the National Football League. Losing millions of young fans may lead to the NFL’s audience dying off, and if new, young fans do not replace the older fans as they pass on, that leaves the league in a bad spot.
TV ratings are not the only bad sign for the longevity of the NFL. According to Forbes, fewer kids are playing football. Last year, Forbes noted that the decline of young people playing football is accelerating.
According to data from the Aspen Institute and the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), from 2008-19 to 2018-19 the total number of youths aged 6 to 18 playing tackle football fell by more than 620,000, from about 2.5 million to less than 1.9 million. It seems almost certain that 2020 or 2021 will see overall high school participation in tackle football drop to below 1 million players, a level of participation not seen since 1998. Over that same decade, season attendance at top-level college games (Football Bowl Subdivision) declined by almost 10% (per school).
The NFL faces another problem of its own making. The league has allowed itself to be turned into a platform for social justice activism. With an audience consisting more and more of older fans, the political activism from the league and players is bound to alienate those older viewers.
The numbers seem to show that football may soon become a part of U.S. history, but not the future.
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