NFL attendance woes and other shortcomings seldom acknowledged

When younger, I was excited this time of year. I’d be at summer camp, or working an odd job, scouring bookstores for NFL preview magazines in preparation for the upcoming season.

Times and people change.

NFL empty stadiumJust as many bookstores and magazines have faded from existence, so did my interest in the NFL roughly 15 years ago. Aside from casual interest in the 2006 Super Bowl Champion Indianapolis Colts since my wife and I moved there that season, I care very little about the NFL these days.  If I am following a sport during the late summer or early autumn, it’s absolutely baseball, especially another season of pennant races and intriguing storylines. And of course, like most, I have adult obligations which take priority over games.

But if you watch ESPN or listen to sports talk radio, former athletes and wannabe athletes still act like I did as a child, with inane football previews riddled with clichés and meaningless predictions. Are they truly representing most sports fans?

Not those I know.

Last month, I published an article exposing the myths about baseball attendance. Hint: it’s risingnot dropping like the media claims to brainwash the masses for some odd reason. To hear the media tell it, baseball has been in a death spiral for three decades; when in fact, baseball has set attendance records in recent years.

NFL attendance, on the contrary, drops every season, now to its lowest levels in more than a decade — despite modern obsession with fantasy teams, just one actual game per week and perpetual media hype. Yet no photo essays of empty football stadiums from Yahoo! are expected, unlike the misleading hatchet pieces they did on baseball twice this summer.

Nor will Colin Cowherd mention any of the above facts on his radio show when touting “huge television numbers” the NFL puts up compared to the other sports each weekend. He and ESPN also won’t discuss rampant steroid abuse in the NFL or dozens of arrests the past few months. It is all so misleading that it doesn’t require further elaboration.

Why the staggering drop in folks attending NFL games though? The sport is “so popular” we’re told, yet most fans prefer to avoid the “stadium experience.” Naive ex-football players toe the company line using the traditional “weak economy” excuse to distort football’s drop in popularity, yet somehow baseball thrived during the recession.

Perhaps because so much of football in person involves looking at a dead field.

Here’s an isolated sequence I noted during a heavily-hyped football tilt last year:




Kick off.


Fumble on first down. Play challenged.


Three-and-out. Punt.


Roughly 17 real-time minutes to run two plays, not including the kickoff.

Football is a fine sport when at home. Those with disposable income can avoid the aforementioned situation and enjoy the Red Zone channel, ignoring a dearth of action and incessant replays, instead flipping around to focus on whatever they choose, like fantasy teams (the main reason most people I know watch NFL).

On your couch you avoid the sport’s inaction with the above, plus food, camaraderie with friends, family and more.

Personally, I won’t pay extra for sports, don’t gamble, never played fantasy and prefer not getting dizzy when watching several games at once. So while those more concerned with money than the actual outcome might be hooked, I’m not.

The substantial attendance drop is also attributed to the unsafe environment for families in most cities, unaffordable tickets and a poor stadium experience the league aimlessly tries to enhance with inane gimmicks.

Football in person is also very time-consuming and generally uncomfortable. A typical Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff at the Meadowlands requires a 9 a.m. departure and home arrival well after 6 p.m.

Baseball tickets may be more expensive than I prefer in some cities, but they still average roughly a quarter the price of football. Additionally, egress and in ingress outside New York, Boston, San Francisco and Chicago is a breeze, and the experience is nearly always a pleasure.

Outside of perhaps the isolated situation, you’re safe to bring children to baseball games, you can enjoy convivial chatter about the nuances of each inning in a comfortable, often scenic setting. And you’ll see something unique every contest. No wonder the sport draws so well.

NFL teams only play one or two home games per month – on a weekend no less – yet many can’t fill up 70,000 seats?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have filled up 55,000 seats nearly 20 times already since April, while many squads sell out every game for six or seven months. A dozen baseball teams may average a startling 35,000 fans over 81 openings in 2013, and 20 of the 30 should average 30,000 by season’s end. Simply remarkable, rarely publicized.

If the Yankees-Red Sox or baseball’s other chief rivalries occurred once or twice per year ala the NFL, they’d draw 200,000.

My belief has always been that football games are something fans look forward to more than actually watch. The weekly buildup and gambling trumps the actual games, which can be boring and predictable. People often like talking and thinking about the sport – more than actually watching come Sundays – or most certainly attending.

Time for honesty from the media. I won’t hold my breath.

About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. “People often like talking and thinking about the sport – more than actually watching come Sundays – or most certainly attending” — couldn’t agree more. Fantasy sports have exacerbated this. A well written and necessary article.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Yep. All major sports have fantasy, but none compare to NFL due to length of time between games. What percentage of NFL “fans” would follow anyone but their team if they didn’t play fantasy?

  2. It is surprising that you talk about football’s ‘inaction’ while disregarding the inaction that takes place between every single pitch in a baseball game.

  3. Mark Elwood says:

    Well said. Not sure why these facts keep getting distorted, but I’d much rather hear the truth than some fabricated agenda. Thanks.

    • AJ Kaufman says:

      Thanks, Mark. One can be a football fan, as you are, yet still be disappointed in facts being (purposely) hidden by media.

  4. MLS is rising very fast.

    • Jon Washburn says:

      It actually is rising considerably…but what does that mean?
      If I said that Madison, WI has gotten more liberal in the last ten years, does it really matter? We are still just talking about degrees.
      In 2000, the league bottomed out, averaging around 13,000 fans per game. This year it’s at more than 18,000.
      HOWEVER…Seattle is almost singlehanded the cause. They are averaging almost 40,000 a game.
      Why? Because they had their NBA team hijacked, their baseball team is awful, and they just want to cheer for something.
      Also, soccer teams play twice a week max. They need too much recovery time.
      So comparing a 30 game season to a 162 game season isn’t AS lopsided as comparing baseball and football…but it’s close.

      • Was looking at some ticket prices for Sporting KC, I will say this, the cost of going to an MLS game ($45-$60 face value) is indeed major league.

      • AJ Kaufman says:

        Thanks, Jon. And I know you are a big soccer fan, but not the modern urban hipster soccer fan who tells people it’s more popular than baseball, etc. You made all the correct points. It is what it is. Soccer, right now, is not even as popular as NHL in America….and WAY WAY less popular than baseball in all cities, including Seattle. (Seattle is weird enough to be the first to switch, though the Mariners can fill 40k every night if they’re winning.)

        • Proud American says:

          I grew up playing and watching football, baseball, and basketball. My favorite sport as an adult is soccer. No timeouts or commercials. Way more exciting.

  5. AJ Kaufman says:

    No timeouts or commercial is good (since the NFL is 97% timeouts and commercials), but barely any scoring, not really much going on. Most Americans find it boring (for good reason) and the lack of attendance and interest outside of a few locales shows — no matter how hard ESPN & urban hipsters try to promote it. It’s a niche sport, like hockey and NASCAR (actually NASCAR is way more popular than NHL & MLS. Check TV ratings and attendance.)

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