Why Watching Football on TV is Better Than In-Person Experience

Updated: July 12, 2020. 

This article was originally published in 2012. The original article has remained in-tact at the bottom of this piece. We refreshed the content to provide more up-to-date statistics and more relevant and timely information. It’s insightful to read about my original predictions and vantage point back in 2012.

NFL teams averaged 66,648 fans at home during the ’19 regular season, the lowest figure since ’04 [source]. The 2018 regular season saw average attendance at 67,100, the lowest average since 2011 [source].

Prior to COVID-19, attendance had been on a continuous decline for the NFL. I stated back in 2012 that watching football on TV has surpassed the in-game experience (read the original excerpt at the bottom of this article). PFT’s Michael David Smith echoed my sentiment along with many others:

“The truth is, if you have an HD TV and a comfortable couch, sitting at home and watching the games for free is a lot better than paying a small fortune to sit in an uncomfortable stadium, often in terrible weather, surrounded by loudmouth drunks”

There are many diehard fans that will argue that you can’t beat the in-game experience. From the tailgating beforehand to the tradition and memories forged at the stadium, there’s not a price you can put on going to an actual game. Below is a great article from Tony Manfred of Bleacher Report:

Why Television Surpassed the In-Game Experience for the NFL:

  • HDTV & Commentary 
    • The quality of watching the games on TV is unmatched. There are so many camera angles and the HD quality is crisp, making it tough to find a better seat in the stadium than that of your living room couch. Additionally, you get the play-by-play and color analysis throughout.
  • WiFi 
    • There is a lot of starting and stopping in the game of football, which makes it ideal for being able to look down at your smartphone in between plays or during commercials. While the Wi-Fi is getting better in stadiums [source] most don’t have outlets for your phone to recharge. A stadium wouldn’t be an ideal place for a laptop. If it’s sunny, it could be hard to see your phone while at a stadium. If it’s raining or snowing or you’re wearing gloves, it could make it almost impossible to check your mobile device. Being at home gives you better technology options.
  • Watching Multiple Games 
    • In 2020, you shouldn’t be confined to only watching 1-game. That’s the beauty of Red Zone and NFL Sunday Ticket. You can go back and forth between games, which is crucial for fantasy owners and gamblers. When you are at the stadium, you’re stuck watching one game, aside from a few highlights on the scoreboard. To some die-hard fans, they’d be fine with just watching one game but in the fantasy football and gambling world we live in, many would prefer to have options in going back and forth between games.
  • Cost 
    • According to a report from ticket seller Vivid Seats, every team in the NFL had average ticket prices above $100 in 2018 [source]. The Buffalo Bills had the lowest at $107, while Patriots fans had to shell out an average of $530. This of course doesn’t take into consideration parking, food and souvenirs. If you have a family of 4, you are likely spending over $500 to take your family to the stadium. A much cheaper alternative? Watching the game on television. If you invited 4 friends over to your house and ordered a pizza and a 24-pack of beer, you’d be “all in” less than $50. For many, going in-person just isn’t worth the price.
  • Time 
    • Time is money. When you attend an NFL game, it’s an entire day event. For many, the full-day experience is what makes the game so memorable. Others prefer to not kill their entire day and wait in traffic before and after.
  • Weather
    • I alluded to this earlier but inclement weather can put a damper on your in-game experience. I’ve been to a game in Buffalo where there was a rainstorm in the first half followed by 7-inches of snow in the second half. It was memorable but not enjoyable in the moment. There are many that would prefer watching a game with a blanket covering them on their couch in December versus being at the stadium.
  • Friends/Family
    • You have no clue who you’ll be surrounded by at an NFL game. It could be a drunken loudmouth. There’s a chance you might be able to go with your spouse but not some of your best friends. The beauty of watching a game on television is you can pick the people you surround yourself with.

Why the NFL won’t get hurt by lackluster attendance

Comparing attendance numbers in 2020 versus prior years will be a moot point for all sports due to the pandemic. Many teams won’t let fans in the stadium or will drastically reduce the number fans allowed into the stadium, if the season happens at all. The Jacksonville Jaguars already announced they will only allow 25% of fans into the stadium [source].

The purpose of this article is to look beyond the 2020 season and dive into the future of the NFL. COVID-19 will turn the NFL into a “TV and Digital Only” business. If there’s any league ready to embrace fewer fans in the stadium and be well prepared for a future drop in attendance, it’s the NFL. Let me explain.

In 2018, gate revenue only accounted for 15% of the NFL’s total revenue [source]. Since 2010, the percentage of gate revenue compared to overall revenue for the NFL has been decreasing, which is actually a good thing for the NFL. This means attendance only makes up a small portion of their total revenue and much less than that of other sports leagues. The reason is because of the few amount of games and the massive TV contracts, which will only be getting larger.

According to CNBC, the NFL gets $1 billion per year from Fox, $950 million from NBC and $1 billion from CBS. This is by far the most lucrative TV deal of any of the major sports and should only be increasing come 2022 (continue reading for more info on this). The NHL, by comparison, under its current deal, gets paid $200 million annually, which equals $2 billion over the ten-year term by NBC [source]. They also have a contract with Rogers Communications in Canada for $5.2 billion over 12-years [source]. It was stated on Bill Simmons Podcast that 40% of the NBA’s revenue is tied to ticket sales. Beyond the Score stated that: “MLB teams are expected to lose about 40% of their gross revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking.”

Attendance dropping isn’t just a football issue. According to the New York Times, total attendance across 2,429 major league games during the regular season dropped by about 1 million fans this season to about 68.5 million, about 14% lower than a high of 79.5 million tickets sold in 2007.

The NFL has the best TV contract and the least amount of games, which positions the league better than any of its peers. With fewer fans in the stadium, television and digital contracts along with sponsorship activation will become even more important.

Future Revenue

The NFL’s broadcasting deals are up after the 2022 season. Prior to COVID-19, there were rumors that the TV contracts could be worth double than what they are currently receiving [source]. With less fans in the stands and less activities taking place because of COVID-19, this could lead to even larger TV and Digital deals as media consumption is on the rise. This is all contingent on the sports being played, of course.

The first sports to return since COVID-19, the PGA and NASCAR, have seen a massive uptick in TV ratings [source]. If more people are consuming media in the form of television, social and streaming, this once again positions the NFL well.

Let’s not forget about that digital consumption for NFL games continues to increase [source]. There’s going to be a digital bidding war that’s not getting much publicity at the moment. Amazon or other streaming services like YouTube TV could buy the Sunday Ticket rights away from AT&T’s DirecTV [source].

Amazon has the rights to stream the NFL games for the 2020 season. It’s reported that Amazon is paying more than the previous $130 million agreement in 2018 [source]. Currently, the digital streaming rights for Amazon is a bargain compared to the TV rights. Considering how many people now consuming television through streaming devices like ROKU, the digital rights will be much more expensive come 2022.

In Closing

If the TV and digital contracts for the NFL increase over time, which it looks like they will, this will make attendance revenue an even smaller piece of the pie for the NFL. This can all be attributed to the popularity of the sport and the fact that watching football on TV for many exceeds that of the in-game experience.

Below was my original article from October of 2012 predicting a decline of attendance for the NFL: 

I never thought the day would come where I’d find myself declining a ticket to a football game. As a kid, the day the NFL schedule was released, I would mark games within driving distance from Columbus that the New York Giants were playing in (praying that my dad would take me). It is tough for me to publicly admit this, but if offered a ticket to a football game, nowadays I’d have a tough time saying yes.

Football is the best sport to watch on television, hands down. With the advancement in HDTV, the picture is so crisp that regardless of where your seat is in the stadium, it’ll be tough to get a better view than the one in your living room. Not to mention, the 30-40 seconds in between plays is the perfect amount of time for the commentators to dissect the last play, show 1-2 replays, and prep the viewer for the upcoming play. If you are at the game, the half-minute in-between plays with no commentary can seem like an eternity.

Every network carrying football games shows more replays each year. The large amount of advertising is understandable as this is the station’s revenue generator. When you are controlling the remote though, this is not a big deal as you have other great games to choose from. If you are at the stadium in less than ideal weather conditions, watching the overweight fan next to you scarf down his fourth hot dog during the TV timeout isn’t exactly entertaining.

Certain aspects of being at a game in-person are unmatched.  The atmosphere of the crowd, meeting other fans, yelling a play call to the coach (even though he can’t hear you) and being able to say, “you were there” are all awesome! Hell, you can even get 15 “likes” when you post a photo of your fifty-yard line seats on Facebook. That being said, twelve-dollar beers, expensive tickets, no cell phone reception and waiting ten minutes to take a piss aren’t so great.

As technology has advanced and social media has become a part of our everyday lives, the in-game experience at football stadiums has been diminished. This isn’t just my opinion. Since 2007, NFL attendance has consistently dropped, as there has been an unprecedented growth of TV audiences.

I’ll choose watching the game with my friends from my living room, having good conversations for four quarters, splitting a 24 pack and saving $100 any day of the week.