Fan Attendance: Why is it Declining?

Super Fan

Are sports teams everywhere really running out of fans?

We’ve all seen recent reports from major leagues, most notably the NFL but also NBA and NASCAR, that show a decline in fan attendance.

Live sports are tons of fun – for rabid sports fanatics, but also for the average Joe and Jane.  Joe may not know what a frozen rope is, or what it means to catch a crab… but man, there is nothing like a hot dog, a beer and a ball game, especially on a brisk fall day.  It’s the classic American sports experience, right?

So why are we seeing smaller and smaller numbers at the game?

The fact is, a decline in fan attendance is affecting college football, professional baseball, basketball, and football, even motorsports:

  • Major League Baseball: A notable decrease in total game attendance, according to Baseball Reference.com.  Even legendary baseball giants the New York Yankees have seen a decline of fans per game and are selling half-off tickets through Groupon.  
  • National Basketball Association: Several lower-level teams, like the Sacramento Kings, Milwaukee Bucks, and Detroit Pistons had major attendance drops. The Pistons averaged only 13,272 tickets sold per home game in the 21,000-seat Palace arena.
  • The National Football League: The league with the highest total revenue, yet still losing fan attendance each year.

“The drop-off in attendance for live sporting events is getting worse,” said Lee Igel, a professor of sports management at New York University. So where have all of the fans gone?

online-streaming-sportsIt’s possible that online streaming has something to do with it.  

Teams may actually be gaining more fans – it’s just not apparent because they’re not (physically) showing up. Tech advances have made sports much more widely accessible to the average fan, which is great!  However many teams are struggling to sell tickets when their fans can stream almost any game (at any time, even live) to their living room tv, computer, or phone. It’s not nearly the same experience, but we may be forgetting just how great a real game is.  

Or is it the cost of attendance?

Our economy is not exactly booming right now… is it possible that it just costs too much for the average American to purchase the tickets (let alone the $25 hot dogs). According to Yahoo Sports, it costs an average of $443.93 for a family of four to attend an NFL game.  Here’s the worst of it:

Highest Fan Cost Index (for a family of 4):

  • Boston Red Sox (MLB): $360.66
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL): $572.58
  • New York Knicks (NBA): $676.42
  • Chicago Bears (NFL): $685.10

“We know it’s more comfortable sitting on a couch,” said NFL spokesman McCarthy, “But the players can’t hear you from there.”

Creative solutions to a growing problem

Many teams, including (but not limited to) the big four pro leagues are struggling to find creative ways to boost sales.  Some are using coupon platforms like Groupon; others have tried dynamic pricing and other promotions.  

One method that hasn’t fully been explored: finding new and exciting ways for fans to get engaged – and to earn rewards for going to games.

Fan engagement and competition platforms like Fantelope allow sports teams to create challenges, to engage fans and make game day even more fun. In the Fantelope dashboard, teams can see who their biggest fans are, who comes to the games and who shares the most on social media. Then they can reward them and give them bragging rights for being the ultimate fan!  Ask for a demo to see how Fantelope can benefit your team, or download it today to see its exciting potential.

4 thoughts on “Fan Attendance: Why is it Declining?

  1. It is not just attendance, but viewership and overall interest as well. Among adults, the percentage of people who attend, watch or follow sports has declined by 5% in the last 10 years. Among the youth, that number has declined by almost 50%.

    It is not hard to see why:

    1) Other Entertainment Options: Let’s be honest, watching people exercise or play a game just isn’t as engaging as it used to be for most people.On demand music/TV, e-books, Netflix, Apple TV, and video games have all contributed to an increasingly competitive electronic entertainment market. There are just far more entertainment options to contend with — and many which are far more accessible, affordable, and engaging. Also, outdoor recreation has seen a huge increase as wilderness areas have become more accessible. There is just more for people to do.

    2) Time Constraints: In our fast-paced world, who has time to attend a pro football game anymore? Not anyone with young kids nor anyone who is a busy professional. As our world has become more fast-paced, we look to more efficient forms of recreation. Watching a 12 hour PGA golf game just doesn’t fly anymore in our fast paced world.

    3) The rise of other sports: Even among sports fans, there is more to see than just football, basketball, baseball, golf, hockey and tennis. There is swimming, lacross, soccer, ruby, waterpolo, crossfit, women’s sports, and extreme sports to contend with now. Again, there are just far more options to watch and far more sports to “follow.”

    4) Greed: It is just too expensive to be a sports fan now. Gone are the days when professional games would be televised for free. Now, you have to pay for cable subscriptions. Oh, and those subscriptions are no longer $30 bucks a month — try $300 or more. All to watch some football? Really? Oh, and ticket prices have also increased 10 fold — both for professional and collegiate athletic events. People are just getting tired of it all.

    5) Cultural Shift in General: In general, people just care less about sports these days. Parents are tired of having their kids look up to a bunch of narcissistic jocks, many of whom participate in borderline (or actual) criminal behavior. All of a sudden, letting them play that new Zelda game doesn’t seem so bad anymore in comparison. In fact, new studies show that while televised sports rots your brain, playing mario increased grey matter — go figure. Parents are recognizing that the surest path a successful future for their kids isn’t sports, its academics, science, and computers. Thus, less emphasis is being placed on youth sports which are now more “for fun.” Speaking of youth sports, more kids are into individual sports than the big money making team sports. And some sports like golf is tending to lose all interest with the local populace simply due to time and money constraints. Meanwhile, medical research continues to prove that contact sports like football are extremely dangerous for the brain and long-term mental health (anxiety, depression, etc.)

    What is more is that all of these trends (other than maybe the greed factor) are not going to change anytime soon. In essence, the “glory days” of professional athletics are over. For all the forgoing reasons, now until kingdom come, there will be a consistent decline in the professional sports industry. Steaming entertainment and media is here to stay. New sports are here to stay. Video games are here to stay. Women’s sports are here to stay. Social media is here to stay. Reality TV is here to stay. Extreme sports are here to stay. Increased interest in academics over athletics is here to stay. Overall lack of free time of the general populace is here to stay. E-books are here to stay. Honestly, you can’t argue that professional athletics were riding a “bubble” for several decades anyway. That “bubble” relied entirely on the indoctrination of the future generation into following their “team.” Well, something of only 10%-20% of the youth today even care about professional sports. When those kids become adults — bubble bursted. Both parents and youth are tired of the Colin Kapernicks of the world. They are tired of the Michael Vicks and “Johnny Footballs.” Sports should be for personal health and fitness and, if it floats your bubble, a cheap and accessible form of entertainment. Today’s professional sports are none of that — hence, why bother?

    Look the NFL, NHL, NBA, MLB, and PGA are not going to disappear, they just never will hold the place they once did in our societal culture. They will never be as big as they once were.

    • @JDog, you should have wrote the entire article. Well put together. Anyone without a diminished capacity could have came out with the reasons the original writer of the article came out with. How amateur. JDog, you need to publish if you don’t already.

  2. Dennis Gannon

    You nailed it. It might even be worse than you describe. Watch a few college football bowl games, they rarely pan the crowd, but when they happen to show the crowd, it reveals a practically empty stadium. The “attendance” figures quoted are all lies. The real numbers are way less. I also think it is the economy, since 2008, many people are still struggling.

  3. Chris Jackson

    “Hey why is attendance down?” It costs too much.
    “Maybe the team is having a down year…” It costs too much
    “What if we add another 150 dollars to one ticket and include food” It costs too much
    “What if we come up with another gimmick like free clutter?” It costs too much
    “Maybe we’ll trade away all of our decent players for an aging superstar and profit from name recognition”

    IT. COSTS. TOO. MUCH And the non-sequitur quoted in this piece in response to the idea that it costs too much tells me that’s why. “They can’t hear you from the couch”. Really? That’s the answer to complaints about costs? A sideways passive aggressive demand to get off your rear and spend the money anyway?

    I go by myself to one or two games per year. There is no way in hell I can bring my whole family. I go more if the team sucks because it’s only then that I can find a ticket for a price I’m willing to pay. And in response to the idea it costs too much, all I see are more gimmicks. Hey, let’s layer more crap that also costs too much on top of the thing that already costs too much and tell them it’s “all-inclusive”. Great. Now that 150 dollar ticket I’d never buy is now a 300 dollar ticket I’d never buy, all because I get to spend 150 bucks on dinner. Good job.

    I say all this as someone who genuinely enjoys each of the four main pro sports. I want to go to more games. But it costs too much.

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