Marketers Need To Adapt To Shifting Football Habits

The NFL season is rapidly approaching, but marketers may want to rethink treating those media buys as the holy grail. 

Foursquare’s case study of visits to sports bars during in-season Sundays shows double-digit decline year-over-year. “Defectors” are popping up at gas stations, hardware stores, pharmacies and supermarkets instead (in short, running errands). 

The 2016 season saw an 8% decline in TV viewers, which has been attributed to many causes, from TV scheduling issues to the heated election cycle to the new ways consumers can access scores. There’s optimism for the season ahead since game schedules have been reworked and the election is behind us, but a continued dip in viewership could begin to impact the most lucrative professional sport in the country (as well as the advertising industry that leverages it), according to a Foursquare study.



Foursquare used its proprietary location intelligence to measure trends, which may shed new light on NFL viewing habits and uncover surprising areas where the trends play out.

The company found that across cities with and without NFL teams, Sunday sports bar foot traffic dropped by double digits between the 2015 and 2016 seasons with a 12% year-over-year drop for cities with teams and a 13% year-over-year drop for those without. 

Despite this decline, football drives sports bar visits: sports bars see a lift of 32% on football Sundays over non-football Sundays. And yet, it seems fewer Americans are going to sports bar throughout the year: visits are down by 4%. But since in-season declines were three times that of the rest of the year, it suggests a potential problem for football if repeated again this season, says Steven Rosenblatt, president of Foursquare.

“I’m a die-hard sports fanatic and an especially big football fan, so this analysis was truly intriguing to me,” Rosenblatt tells Marketing Daily. “One finding that I was really interested to see was that NFL team win-loss records didn’t have an impact on how sports bars in the region fared during Sundays and that winning and losing teams alike could not buck the declining trend.”

Foursquare’s data reveals that in 2016, there was a 10% decline in people who went to a sports bar more than three times times during the 17-week season. More passionate fans — those who visited sports bars on Sundays more than six times during the 2015 season — declined even more significantly, with only 40% going to a sports bar as often in 2016 as they did in the 2015 season. Women and Millennials were the biggest defectors from sports bars, although all demographic groups saw defection. 

Nothing else united these defectors the way that football did, but it seems that places for Sunday errands picked up a notable amount of foot traffic share. Sunday visits to shops and services grew by 3.2% year-over-year during the 2016 season. 

Gas stations and hardware stores both saw a 12% increase in share of visits from this group, pharmacies 10% and supermarkets 3%. Chains that won big? Shell, Chevron and BP in the gas category; Kroger, Safeway and Trader Joe’s for supermarkets; and both Home Depot and Lowe’s (Lowe’s share of visits grew twice more than Home Depot’s).     

Marketers should deeply consider their strategy when it comes to targeting football fans as consumer behavior shifts, Rosenblatt says.

“Whether or not this decline (in both TV ratings and sports bar foot traffic) continues into the new season could potentially have a strong impact on a lot of businesses from casual dining and QSRs that rely on game-time foot traffic to sports bars to liquor companies and more, he says.

Next story loading loading..