Evolution of Sports Viewership
9.4.19 | Ann Bremer
I LOVE sports. I love to play them, talk about them, and watch them! I also LOVE TV. My family jokes that I could not have found a better career – one where I frequently combine TV and sports and nerd out about both.
Here in Denver, you cannot deny the excitement in the air when football season arrives. While we are still in the heat of summer (hello 100 degrees!) and baseball season (Go Rockies!), let’s look at the power sports viewing (especially the NFL) still holds on traditional TV and how it is evolving.
While this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone, the NFL continues to be the most watched sport in America. In 2018, NFL games accounted for 27% of ALL sports viewed on TV. This was especially impressive in a year with both the Olympics and Men’s World Cup. The NFL’s dominance on TV extends well outside the sports arena: nearly 75% of the most watched PROGRAMS on TV in 2018 were NFL games.
When it comes to sports viewing, traditional (linear) television still dominates, but audiences are increasingly shifting to digital video platforms. In 2018, 63 million consumers watched a sport of some kind online and digital streaming viewership for regular season NFL games was up 86% from 2017. However, total online sports streamers still pale in comparison to the linear audience for the NFL (139 million Americans in 2018) and MLB (83 million). So while the options to view sports and other programming are seemingly endless for streaming, it has a long way to go to surpass linear viewing.
The most well known steaming services for sports are subscription-based and from the leagues themselves, like MLB.TV and NFL’s Sunday Ticket. However, these services can be pricey and are aimed at the “super fan.” They are not necessarily a replacement for linear TV, but rather an enhancement to it. Another popular option for non-linear TV viewing is OTT (over-the-top) which allows viewers to access live TV content online through a mobile device or internet connected TV. Social media and tech giants like Twitter, Amazon and Facebook have decided to compete in the space, successfully bidding for streaming rights to various sporting events including NFL’s Thursday Night Football, select MLB games and the English Premier Leagues.
Consumers have more options than ever when deciding what to watch. However, research from Nielsen shows that it has increased confusion and old habits die hard. Users are more likely to revert back to linear TV – checking out favorite channels or old fashioned “channel surfing” versus browsing menus or watching recommendations from their subscription services.
At Inline Media, we take a human-centered approach to media planning. We know that individuals purchase products & make decisions and it is important to understand an advertiser’s audience on a human, personal level. Where and how they interact with video advertising is an important part of this; we take pride in navigating this very crowded landscape full of different players & platforms.
Go Broncos and Go Pack Go!
 Nielsen Npower. Calendar Year 2018. NFL vs All Sports Event Viewership. Broadcast and Cable included
 Nielsen live+ same day data, 2018
 NFL Media Release, January 2nd, 2019
 Sports OTT Landscape in the US- eMarketer Report, January 24th, 2019
 Nielsen Total Audience Report, Q1 2019