If you’re like me and will easily find something else to watch tomorrow instead of the Super Bowl, you’re not alone.
A poll conducted by Seton Hall found that 16 percent of football fans who “closely follow” the NFL will not be watching the game tomorrow. And if that isn’t worrying enough for professional football, consider that the percentage of Americans who plan on watching the game has dropped from 68 percent to 54 percent.
“16% of people who identify themselves as NFL fans is a significant number and reflects the trend of declining ratings that we’ve seen all season,” said poll director Rick Gentile in a statement. “That this seems to be impacting Super Bowl viewership should be a concern to the league, the broadcasters and especially the advertisers.”
Why the drop in interest? The poll didn’t ask, but the refusal by some players to stand for the national anthem as a protest against social injustice could be a factor.
Only 28 percent of those surveyed said they approved of players protesting during the national anthem during the regular season, while 46 percent said they disapproved and 25 percent had no opinion.
The numbers of those opposing the anthem kneelers have steadily increased over the last year where now nearly half of NFL fans disapprove. In that respect, the drop in the numbers of people who plan on watching the Big Game is significant.
Of course, poll results should be met with a healthy amount of skepticism, especially in the wake of the 2016 presidential election polling. And it’s certainly possible that some of the people claiming they won’t watch the game will in fact watch it.
But a drop in Super Bowl interest does match up with the fact that NFL regular season ratings have dropped two seasons in a row. And both of the past two Super Bowls saw a slight drop in total viewership from the year before.
On the other hand, the Super Bowl is thought to be a mainstream cultural event, separate from the NFL regular season. Many, many Americans watch the Super Bowl regardless of which two teams are playing, and regardless of whether they follow the NFL at all. More than 111 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl 51. For advertisers, it’s still the biggest game in town.
The usual caveats apply to this poll. There are many reasons so many people won’t be watching the Super Bowl. Some may be traveling while others are working. Perhaps the largest number of those who won’t watch the Super Bowl are people who have unplugged from cable and satellite TV. According to the poll, 90 percent of those watching will be viewing the game on TV, down from 98 percent last year. Mobile devices are revolutionizing TV viewing habits and with an entire Internet to watch rather than TV, it appears that phones and tablets are simply giving people more options to entertain themselves.
But we know the NFL is very concerned with the protests given how hard they have tried to downplay them over the last few months. “No big deal,” they tell us while game viewership is tanking. Don’t believe a word of it.