On Losing Interest in the NFL

>> 4.25.2011

While the battle of Courtroom Football rages on, something’s happening: fans are losing interest in the NFL. NFL bloggers are figuring this out by their dwindling traffic, and their quiet commentariats—that includes little ol’ single-team fan blogs like this one, all the way up to the Grandaddy of Us All, Pro Football Talk.

Here's a graphical demonstration:

This is the worldwide Google search interest level for the NFL, from 2004 to today. It’s a nice snapshot of How Interested The Internet Is In Something. I’m sorry I couldn’t make this look any nicer, the Javascript embedding tool didn’t play nicely with Blogger. Anyway, you see an immediate, definite pattern: traffic builds to a peak the first week of the season, dips for a few weeks, then, starts building towards the playoffs. The peak week is always the last week of the regular season, or thereabouts; as most teams’ seasons end then, traffic starts a precipitous decline to a mid-March trough. Then, interest builds back up to a second, lower peak come Draft time, before hitting the long doldrums of summer.

The last cycle on the graph (2010) is remarkable for a number of reasons. The April peak was much, much higher—about twice as high as the usual draft spike. The regular season interest started building earlier, climbed to 20% above usual levels, and stayed there. However, there’s a problem: after the Super Bowl, interest dipped lower than it’s ever been before the draft, and it’s not building back up to a second peak right now.

The four weeks before, and week of, the 2010 draft pulled search interest levels of 17, 18, 19, 23, and 78 last year. This year’s predraft month, it’s been 14, 14, 17, and 24—meaning, unless interest goes from 24 to 100 this week (unlikely), the draft simply isn’t moving the needle like it always does. Coming off of a record-smashing year for interest in the NFL, this looks scary—especially to bloggers like me.

My traffic for April so far has been just a quarter of it was for last April, and comments have all but disappeared. This is partly due to the Lions’ pick being later in the draft (and therefore less sexy). However, even national blogs like Pro Football Talk are feeling the pinch, too:

That said, we think it’s fair and appropriate at this point to disclose our stake in the situation.  Because our overall interests are driven by site traffic (Charlie Sheen says, “duh”), we want our traffic to be higher.  Right now, our traffic is lower than it would be if a lockout hadn’t happened . . .

. . . Thus, we acknowledge our bias in this regard — we want the lockout to end, quickly. Since we’d feel the same way if we were merely fans and not financially invested in the process, it won’t be affecting our opinions or our coverage in any way.

The day of the schedule release saw a flicker of interest, though, which Florio discussed with Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com. Tellingly, Florio Tweeted out: 

Even with no end in sight for the lockout, the release of the schedule has made me very happy, at least for one night.

Throughout this labor negotiation, lockout, and litigation process, I’ve been warning both sides that they’re doing real, permanent damage to the NFL’s fandom. They’ve presumed not only that the NFL will maintain their unheard-of dominance over the American sports landscape, but that their stratospheric growth rate will continue unchecked—accelerate, even. Like King Midas, though, the NFL’s ability to turn everything it touches into gold may be threatening to starve it.

The lockout has taken away everything fun about the offseason, and replaced it with endless legal wrangling and PR spin. So far, most fans have responded by tuning out. Will they tune back in for the second primetime draft? Or, will the NFL not get its groove back until there is a new collective bargaining agreement? Or, will the NFL finally wane, settling back into its position as the nation’s number one sport—instead of the nation’s only sport that matters?


15 comments:

HSOMGF,  April 25, 2011 at 3:40 AM  

"Like King Midas, though, the NFL’s ability to turn everything it touches into gold may be threatening to starve it."

Yep, exactly. I've noticed people simply aren't talking about football either on or offline. This country has bigger issues than rich mofos arguing over money.

NorthLeft12 April 25, 2011 at 9:47 AM  

I agree with you about the impact of the lockout on fan interest. It definitely puts a large damper on any excitement over seeing new players come [even though in a lot of cases they are no better than the guys who left] and go. The timing of all these activities seemed to be perfect where you always had something going on to stir up positive interest from the end of the Super Bowl to the start of the regular season.

ie. Combine, Free Agency, Draft, OTAs, Free Agency, Camps, Cuts, Preseason, signings/cuts.

Ty April 25, 2011 at 10:54 AM  

"Yep, exactly. I've noticed people simply aren't talking about football either on or offline. This country has bigger issues than rich mofos arguing over money."

I'd like to think that's it. I also suspect some of that attention is flowing into other sports or entertainment.

Peace
Ty

Ty April 25, 2011 at 10:57 AM  

NorthLeft12--

Exactly. I once heard an ESPN radio jock (can't remember who) say prior to the first week of preseason games, "The most exciting sport in the world, the NFL is back, after a long summer of having only the second-most exciting sport in the world to watch: NFL Offseason." The free agency, draft, OTAs, etc. keep us all on the hook about 11 months out of the year. Now that they've let some of us get away, will they ever get that back?

Peace
Ty

A Lion in ViQueen Territory,  April 25, 2011 at 11:06 AM  

Sorry, Ty. Ever since I started using an RSS feeder, I've not been a commenter. Not that I was all that prolific to begin with. I'm a consumer, but rarely give back in the form of comments. I use and abuse. I hit it and quit it.

I'm always interested and always read your stuff, for what it's worth.

ALiVQT

Bryan April 25, 2011 at 11:49 AM  

I think the bloggers have also lost some interest. Even I have been less motivated to write about football during the lockout.

Ty April 25, 2011 at 12:09 PM  

ALiVQT--

Yeah, and I realize my blog is perfect RSS fodder. I don't update every day, let alone multiple times a day. I also don't write very much comment bait, like "WILL THE LIONS GO 0-16 AGAIN?!? SOUND OFF!!!" Partly because of that, the commenting community here is polite and thoughtful . . . something I'm really proud of, but not something that invites long, heated discussions.

Still, a year ago I was getting 10-20 comments per post, plus my attempts to reply to all of them. Now I usually get a handful . . . I'm (possibly arrogantly) sure it's not because quality is slipping. I suspect it's because people just aren't as fired up about all this stuff as usual.

Peace
Ty

B,  April 25, 2011 at 12:10 PM  

can't argue that people will be tuning out, but that chart (unless I'm supposed to click on it and see a more detailed layout) looks just as the track record of dips suggest - the dip being larger after this season because the interest level was larger at the beginning. However, I don't disagree with all your points, and I think once the offseason (and lockout) drags on we won't see nearly the same kind of spike in interest you can see in the chart for previous years.

Ty April 25, 2011 at 12:15 PM  

B--

I actually downloaded the raw data and made a chart of my own that shows what's going on with a little more atomicity; I couldn't get the X axis to be labeled with anything other than a long, hard-to-read date range string, though.

It's why I quoted the exact numbers--March interest has never been lower, in an absolute sense, for as long as Google's been tracking it. This, despite this past season garnering over 30% more interest than typical. The dip isn't just returning to usual March levels, it's the worst March ever coming off the best regular season ever. Unless this week sees interest three-to-four times higher than last week, there's been a very tangible loss of interest in the NFL--something both sides, but especially the owners, seem to think couldn't ever happen.

Peace
Ty

alex April 25, 2011 at 12:24 PM  

I've clicked on this post at least 4 times to prove you wrong!

I [wrongly] assumed that the NFL would come back quickly so I didn't pay much attention to the NFL because I assumed it would work itself out. When it didn't, it just annoyed me that they would screw the fans like this, so I decided to pay even less attention. When they come back I'll care, but otherwise I'll enjoy the Wings' run and the Tigers.

Not that I haven't been following the Lions' draft prospects, can't shake that fever. Now I just want the draft to end so I can ignore the NFL again! Just end the lockout please.

minker April 25, 2011 at 2:07 PM  

Hey Ty,
After watching and feeling the pinch of the greed on Wall Street, with Big Banks/Mortgage Companies, Corporate Insurance and Dishonest Rating Agencies making hundreds of millions of dollars for their CEOs and Boards of Directors while bankrupting their companies so we have to bail them out to prevent catastrophe, it's beyond frustrating! Beyond frustrating that while they perpetrated the largest fraud in the history of the world, not one of them is in prison and we end up paying for their greed.

So, watching millionaires and billionaires squabbling over how much more they can get when we all know who is going to end up paying for it, again, it's hard not to get ticked off when they are screwing around with our sport.

Don't get me wrong, I love my Lions and I love hearing that players are getting together on their own to practice and make the team better-I love that, but I'm not hearing any gratitude from the owners about how cool it is to get to be a part of the NFL-just how they need bigger concessions for bigger stadiums or else they'll move the team, and how picks 2 through 15 won't sign until number 1 signs so they know how much they can hold for. It's crazy and we accept it. I will never in my lifetime make what some 21 kid is going to make in one year in the NFL.

That said, and thank you for letting me vent, I love my Lions and I read up on them every single day and am usually so excited about the draft-and I am excited about the draft and who Mayhew and company are going to pick because I have complete faith in their decision making, but the greed involved in this (lack of) agreement just sucks.

dgaubatz313 April 25, 2011 at 2:23 PM  

I'm actually getting into baseball right now and in baseball u can watch more than one game a week screw football im not buying season tickets this year.

Anonymous,  April 25, 2011 at 5:03 PM  

Anecdotally, I'd say that the Stanley Cup has pretty much displaced my interest and my friends' interest in football for the time being. I imagine it's one of the primary reasons for the dip every year, and with free agency being replaced with legal battles (YAWN) that dip was even more pronounced this year.

It will be interesting to see how things play out after the finals if there is still no resolution to the lockout. A baseball renaissance? Or NFL protests, perhaps? (wouldn't that be a sight to see...)

Ty April 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM  

alex--

You rock; thanks!

Even though I have been following the labor stuff breathlessly for almost two years now, I also assumed that it would get done . . . when talks finally fell apart I was hurt, confused, and angry. I still can't believe neither side was more prepared to deal than this, and that the owners were perfectly comfortable betting the farm on the 8th Circuit Court rather than back off their demands a bit.

I know you're not the only one who'll tune right back out after the draft.

Peace
Ty

Ty April 27, 2011 at 12:24 AM  

minker--

First, thanks for commenting, man! Always glad to see your name come through.

"Beyond frustrating that while they perpetrated the largest fraud in the history of the world, not one of them is in prison and we end up paying for their greed."

Whew . . . you got that right. Worse yet, they're basically back to doing whatever they were doing before the whole mess.

"It's crazy and we accept it."

It IS. It IS crazy, and we have accepted it up to this point--and I'm not kidding myself, we'll likely keep accepting it to a large degree. But a storm has been brewing for a while, now, and soon there will be a reckoning.

As for a place to vent? That's what this place is here for, man. Welcome to dump your spleen here any time.

Peace
Ty

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