I remember as a kid bopping my head to the beat of Buggle’s 1979 ‘Video Killed the Radio Star‘. I didn’t know what it meant, but it had a great beat, and that was all that mattered. As I got older and actually put some thought into the lyrics, it made a lot of sense. Which brings me to today’s real topic – Is Daily Fantasy Sports betting killing NFL ratings?
Just as MTV music videos changed our perception of musicians, season-long and daily fantasy sports, aka DFS, has altered the way many sports fans view American football. Instead of devoting their fandom to their favorite teams, they are dedicated to their drafted players, selected from various teams, and it could be having a negative impact on how they enjoy the games – from the National Football League’s point of view, anyway.
Ten years ago, when fantasy sports was just emerging, NFL fans gathered around the television every Sunday and Monday night with snacks and beverages, glued to the screen as they wildly cheered on their favorite teams, vehemently denouncing bad calls by the referees and shaking their fists at the scoring drives of their rivals.
Now days, as daily fantasy sports betting dominates the team-based athletic environment, more and more people are merely getting updates on their mobile devices, or watching scoring highlights on the NFL’s RedZone network. As a result, the NFL’s rating have dropped dramatically in the 2016-17 season.
Other Contributing Factors
Sure, there are plenty of other reasons we could associate with the decline in viewership.
It’s an election year in the US, and the televised political debates between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are surely attracting more attention. These could easily have drawn viewers away from Monday and Thursday night games.
There’s also a notable lack of talent at the quarterback position compared to recent years. And it doesn’t help that the rules of the game have been altered so much that mass confusion among fans is common at least twice per game.
NFL Ratings A DFS Fad?
But let’s also not forget that NFL’s ratings climbed dramatically with the onslaught of daily fantasy sports betting ads in recent years. When DFS apps like DraftKings and FanDuel began attracting upwards of 50 million users in the US and Canada, NFL ratings soared. More people who previously cared little for American football began watching the games.
But now, maybe those same people are relying on their phones to tell them what’s happening – and whether their drafted teams are winning – rather than spending an entire Sunday on the sofa.
The big Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football games saw the worst drop in ratings, down 19% and 24% respectively.
Researchers Agree, Daily Fantasy Sports Betting to Blame
Pete Iorizzo of the TimesUnion came up with the same theory, turning to Fordham University’s John Fortunado for answers.
Fortunado authored a research paper on the subject in 2011 that measured the parallels between fantasy sports and NFL ratings. He found that games with high-profile players – those most often drafted by DFS bettors – garnered a lot more viewership than other games.
While his research indicated that daily fantasy sports betting was having a positive impact on NFL viewership five years ago, he now says it appears to have been a short-term boost. He said that may have cost the NFL a lot in terms of loyal fans, and that the league’s own introduction of the RedZone (scoring plays only) highlight channel may have been counterproductive to viewership.
“I do think the fantasy fan watches differently. It’s not the same passion,” Fortunado told Iorizzo.
“The passion isn’t the same as a Jets or a Bears fan who’s watching every play. They don’t care to watch the Jets and Bears. All they care about is if Andrew Luck is scoring,” he explained. “And now, they don’t need to actually watch the games to see how he’s doing. They can just check on their phones.”