Browns anthem protest.

With the continued anger about the lack of interest in Colin Kaepernick from NFL teams, as well as the questionable reasoning for why he remains unsigned, there has been a steady stream of condemnation of the NFL from some black fans. Many have said that they will boycott the NFL, whether through not buying tickets, buying team merchandise or watch games, so long as the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback remains on the sidelines.

Why this matters because in a league that is disproportionally black versus nearly every other arena in society, the African-American community provides a significant fraction of the viewership, let alone other forms of support for players and teams. The perceived blackballing of Kaepernick, arguably more than any other controversy in the last few years, has given birth to an inspired response that has gone beyond hashtags. A well-attended rally outside of the league headquarters in New York received significant media coverage, but it was thus far the most public action of a growing movement that appears to be too hard for the NFL to ignore.

Or is it? Broadcasting rights were locked down years ago between the league’s TV partners, with the soonest of the long-term deals to expire in 2021 (ESPN’s Monday Night Football). The NFL already has its dollars unless ratings crater to unheard of depths and the networks talk about renegotiating their deals. (That’s never going to happen.) And even with the loss of over a million male viewers per regular season game last year, the league’s only redress was in relation to the decline was modifying commercial breaks.

This study takes a deep look into the average regular season viewership among black NFL fans since 2013. As with last season’s series where we looked at female viewership, the midway point of the 2016 season, the overstated post-Election Day theory, and the full 2016 regular season, this analysis excludes the NFL Network due to its smaller distribution footprint versus CBS, FOX, NBC, and ESPN. Genders once more are separated to reflect more accurate patterns than the broadness of all viewers – years of surveys and reports tout women making up at least 40% of the NFL’s fan base. However, this study looks beyond the traditional advertising sales breaks for reasons that will become clear as you continue to read on.

[Source: Nielsen Media Research; 2013-16 NFL regular seasons; Live+Same Day, nationally-televised broadcasts only (CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN – Excluding NFL Network)]

On a whole since 2013, black viewership was certainly impacted by most of the same factors that had hurt the league with all other viewers – use of illegal streaming for out-of-market games, concerns about brain trauma and CTE, frequent matchups of mediocre-to-bad teams, the retirement of Peyton Manning (and subsequent end to the hype of the friendly rivalry with Tom Brady and his Patriots) and the much-maligned Thursday Night Football window. The fluctuation among all black female viewers is notable for how long it took for the league to regain nearly all of those lost in 2014. The average game was viewed by 1.024 million in the group in 2013, but it dropped by 9% the following year. Two seasons of slight gains puts the average viewership at 1.002 million in the group, about 2% under 2013 (flat in industry parlance).

Among all black males, viewership technically remained flat between 2013 and 2015, hovering around 1.8 million viewers in the group. Yet as was the case will all males in 2016, it wasn’t until last season where there was a discernable decline as the average game took in 4% fewer black male viewers (1.747 million in 2016 vs. 1.812 million in 2015).

Diving deeper into age breaks, however, reveals that even before some black NFL fans began considering a TV boycott, younger demos had already pulled away from the game.

[Source: Nielsen Media Research; 2013-16 NFL regular seasons; Live+Same Day, nationally-televised broadcasts only (CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN – Excluding NFL Network)]

Whether it’s a mix of watching games through streaming services (legal or not), the popularity of NFL Red Zone or pure disinterest in the game, there were remarkable double-digit declines with both black women (-17%) and men aged 18-24 (-24%) between 2015 and 2016. For young black women, this stood out because they also provided some of the most startling drops between 2013 and 2014 – perhaps as a reaction to the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy domestic violence cases. Over the four seasons, the average game lost 33% of this group (73,000 in 2013 to 49,000 last season). Men of the same age break were notable for a different reason – while this group was unchanged from 2013 to 2014, there was actually a 7% uptick between 2014 and 2015 before the massive drop of 34,000 viewers last season.

[Source: Nielsen Media Research; 2013-16 NFL regular seasons; Live+Same Day, nationally-televised broadcasts only (CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN – Excluding NFL Network)]

Changes among 18-24 were nearly balanced out by those 25-34, which accounted for 383,000 total viewers in the demo in 2016, which is actually the same total from three seasons prior. Whereas black women in the demo rose above its 2013 levels after its 2014 decline, black men have slipped by 6% over the same four season period. The 4% lift in 2016 was the first increase in the demo after slippage going back to the 2012 season where 259,000 watched an average game.

The same patterns repeated themselves for the next two older age breaks of 35-44 and 45-54: women returned to near or above 2013 totals while men took a step back.

[Source: Nielsen Media Research; 2013-16 NFL regular seasons; Live+Same Day, nationally-televised broadcasts only (CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN – Excluding NFL Network)]

A most telling piece of these snapshots is that 11% year-to-year loss for black males aged 35-44, losing 33,000 viewers in a season.  (Though uncharted, the 262,000 viewers in 2016 represent an even steeper decline from the 315,000 in 2012 – 53,000 fewer black males per broadcast.)

When it comes to ratings, the staying power of the #NFLBlackout lies in some of the older demographics, especially (believe it or not), black adults aged 55 and up – the Baby Boomers and the smaller Silent Generation. Whereas cord-cutting is highly referenced for the younger demos, the older ones are still partial to traditional TV.

[Source: Nielsen Media Research; 2013-16 NFL regular seasons; Live+Same Day, nationally-televised broadcasts only (CBS, FOX, NBC, ESPN – Excluding NFL Network)]

Over a half million of the NFL’s black viewers were in the 55-64 age break (67% men/33% women), the third-largest measured group after those a decade younger and those above 65 years old. Black women of this demo range not only recovered from the 2014 declines, but they eclipsed 2013’s viewership. Men of the same group only declined between 2014 and 2015 (-6%, approximately 21,000 viewers), but the demo made an 8% jump to have 333,000 total viewers last season.

As for those above 65, black men were the only measured group that steadily grew over the last four seasons as the NFL added 9% more (approximately 30,000) since 2013. Black men above 65 have actually grown by a staggering 40% from the uncharted 2012 (247,000 total viewers in 2012).

Now in fairness, the sustained growth of the older demos is the natural result of just getting older as viewers can only ‘age up’ into a new demo. For that reason, a TV boycott would only be considered viable if there is any noticeable erosion among black Boomers and Silents to couple drops in the already-shifting demos under 55.

There’s no requirement for a team to sign Colin Kaepernick, but the idea that a free agent quarterback with his record has remained unsigned for this long is impossible to comprehend, regardless of how one feels about his method of protesting a season ago. It’s possible that he does get picked up by a NFL team during the regular season, though the possibilities seem pretty remote right now. Yet, the saga has created a groundswell of commentary and decision-making that is akin to the female viewership losses in 2014 in the aftermath of the infamous ‘NFL gone bad’ offseason. Just as reporting on the various transgressions gave some female fans time and information to make decisions about their support, the ongoing blackout discussion has had plenty of time to grow when games were not played. After all, it had been eight months since Kaepernick last threw a pass in a game, and six months since he announced that he would stand for the national anthem going forward.

Committing to not watching games is going to be a challenge for the football addict, but those who go forward understand that TV viewership is the bloodline of the league, more than ticket sales and much more than moving merchandise. There are legitimate concerns about the long-term viability of the #NFLBlackout such as the draw of Super Bowl contenders with leading black stars – see Cam Newton in Carolina in 2015 or Dallas’s resurgence under Dak Prescott last year – the power of fantasy football, and the lack of compelling counterprogramming versus the average game. Regardless, with the likelihood that Colin Kaepernick won’t play a down in the NFL in 2017, it might behoove the NFL to take a look at its ratings among the African-American fan base as its 98th season progresses.

  • BobLee Says

    A fascinating subject! REALLY! I’m not too good at interpreting graphs and stats. …. Can someone tell me from this data – What % of NFL fans are assumed to “be Black”? … However total NFL Fans are measured, what % are “Black”? …. has that % increased, decreased, stayed the same over the past 5-10-20 years?

    • Good question. It almost mirrors the American population as a whole: black/African-Americans make up about 13% of the population, but in terms of NFL viewership,it’s between 15-16% each of the last five years. I didn’t have the data readily available going past 2012, but I would estimate that the percentages are similar going further back.

      • BobLee Says

        Thanks Jason. I may be able to get you some additional national media coverage for this article. I “know people”… 🙂

  • Carter_Burger67

    70% of the current players in the NFL are black. All of them are wealthy by today’s standards. Kaepernick walked away from a $30 million deal. Tread lightly and be careful what you ask for.

    • Deon Hamner

      Yeah walked away…. He was getting cut. Don’t kid yourself… It was hugh freeze situation. You either quitting or getting fired, your choice?

      • Carter_Burger67

        Kaepernick opted out of the contract. Had he stayed and gotten cut, he would have still been owed the money, but like the coward he is, he walked away.

        • Deon Hamner

          Stop lying. He already received his bonus money.. His contract was team friendly… he wasn’t getting another dime from them. You calling someone a coward? How old are you? 5? 6?

          • Carter_Burger67

            So he’s ALREADY been paid. Even more interesting. And I’m calling you a coward for defending him.

          • Deon Hamner

            great… You and your mama are cowards. How about that? Everyone knows a signing bonus goes in the first two years. He wasn’t seeing that 15 million this year..

          • Carter_Burger67

            You know the funniest thing about this, you are so stupid you keep responding.

          • Deon Hamner

            Pot meet kettle…

          • Carter_Burger67

            I’m just curious to see exactly how big of a fool you are gonna make yourself out to be. So far, you’ve exceeded my expectations.

          • Deon Hamner

            You bore me loser. You like hearing yourself talk. Move along fool…

          • Carter_Burger67

            If I’m a loser, what does that make you for continuing to respond?

          • Deon Hamner

            Listen take your L and move along. You bitched about Kaepernick, you were proven wrong. Then you see what happen to Michael Bennett in Las Vegas and you see why Kaepernick took his stance. So either you woefully ignorant, clueless or lack basic human rights. It’s not my job to educate you. You talking in circles and here’s the real part. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO HAVE THE LAST WORD.

          • Carter_Burger67

            Losers responding to losers. You guys are funny.

          • Deon Hamner

            You still talking homie?! #Sad

          • Carter_Burger67

            Looks like you are too. #majorloser

          • Deon Hamner

            Smh… 2 days later huh? Still in defeat

          • Carter_Burger67

            yea, some of us have more important things to do and don’t spend all day in the internet in their parent’s basement like losers like yourself do.

          • Deon Hamner

            Shouldn’t talk about yourself like that… yeah real important things like commenting on old post after already embarrassing yourself. Pathetic.

          • Carter_Burger67

            You shouldn’t talk about yourself like that. HA, HAHAHAHA. Dude you are funny.

          • Deon Hamner

            Thanks. Don’t know why we are still going back and forth. I guess you want some kind of attention or feel better about some kind of win. But like I said, you not getting the last word…

          • Carter_Burger67

            Like I said, you are funny. How do you fit you and your loser ego in the same room?

          • Deon Hamner

            Yawn.. You boring me clown… See you tomorrow. Get some better material…

          • Carter_Burger67

            One could say the same to you.

          • Deon Hamner

            You clearly have.. A week later… But you’ll accept it. Still waiting for you to move from denial to acceptance…

          • Carter_Burger67

            I’ll follow you.

          • Deon Hamner

            Do me a favor. Hold you breathe.. Please..

          • Carter_Burger67

            That’s the best you can come up with? Dude you are weak.

          • Deon Hamner

            My god you are like legit stalking… #Sad

            You need attention this much? Side note its 2017 no one under 40 uses dude… Come join in this century…

          • Carter_Burger67

            dude, you are still responding to me? Who’s the one needing attention? Dude, you are totally funny and we all are having a laugh at your expense. Office bets are now on as to your next response.

          • Deon Hamner

            I told your bitch ass last week you not getting the last word. WHAT IS HARD TO UNDERSTAND? Office bets.. Bitch you ain’t got no jump in mom’s basement…

          • Carter_Burger67

            dude, chill. you are gonna stroke out. Then I’d lose all this money I’m making off your ignorant rants. HA, HAHAHAHA. Keep it up buddy, us basement dwellers are loving it.

          • Deon Hamner

            Hello Good Day to you

          • Carter_Burger67

            dude, that was weak. That’s all you got left?

          • Deon Hamner

            yep

          • Carter_Burger67

            awww. what’s wrong buddy. got your feels all hurt now?

          • Deon Hamner

            Nope… Now we buddies huh? No Thanks…

          • Carter_Burger67

            What? You can’t be buddies with someone like me. Man you are such a racist.

          • Deon Hamner

            Incorrect… not racist at all. I judge on character not appearance..

          • Carter_Burger67

            Sorry dude. You’ve already proven yourself to be a racist.

          • Deon Hamner

            Ok pal…

          • Carter_Burger67

            I’m not your pal. I don’t associate with racists.

          • Deon Hamner

            ok pal…

          • Carter_Burger67

            niggah you crazy.

          • Carter_Burger67

            That’s all you got let? Dude, you weak.

          • Deon Hamner

            O-k pal

          • Carter_Burger67

            and there’s not a dash between the ‘o’ and ‘k’.

          • Deon Hamner

            o–k

          • Carter_Burger67

            keep showing how ignorant you are

          • Deon Hamner

            my loser troll post! hope you had a miserable weekend… I’ll go back to o-k post after this..

          • Carter_Burger67

            o–k

          • Deon Hamner

            sad… ok…

          • Carter_Burger67

            sadder still. ok

          • Deon Hamner

            saddest ok…

          • Deon Hamner

            And it’s left not let.

          • Carter_Burger67

            ok fool

          • Deon Hamner

            I can spell. In a Heisenberg avatar no less.. How many L’s you gonna take?!!

          • Carter_Burger67

            still waiting on the one.

          • Deon Hamner

            ready?! wait for it! o—k.

          • Carter_Burger67

            that’s three. you can’t even count.

          • Deon Hamner

            ok

          • Carter_Burger67

            you got weak game

          • Deon Hamner

            ok

          • Carter_Burger67

            I see you finally googled the proper spelling of ‘ok’ too. Good for you.

          • Deon Hamner

            two weeks in huh… o————k

          • Carter_Burger67

            still a tool you are.

          • Deon Hamner

            ok

          • Carter_Burger67

            and your a tool. ok

          • Deon Hamner

            but yet you keep responding… ok..

          • Carter_Burger67

            so do you.

          • Deon Hamner

            I told you weeks ago what was gonna happen and you not listening. So keep being petty.

          • Carter_Burger67

            ok

          • Deon Hamner

            ok then… bye

          • Carter_Burger67

            ok

          • Deon Hamner

            Ok

          • Carter_Burger67

            0k, loser

          • Deon Hamner

            OK

          • Carter_Burger67

            at least you understand you are a tool. Acceptance is the first step.

          • Deon Hamner

            yawn… again like two weeks ago. pot meet kettle…. ok?

          • Carter_Burger67

            you still with that weak game.

          • Deon Hamner

            yep and ok

          • Carter_Burger67

            at least you are honest that you suck. ok

          • Deon Hamner

            weak. ok.

  • BobLee Says

    IMO… the Heyday of The NFL is over but not because of A Reason but for a confluence of reasons. Not the least of which is that The NFL was Baby Boomers’ sport and the BBs are fading out. Millennials will find their own “Our Sport” or “Sports” whether its UFC or a combination of sports. Likely the latter. The NFL isn’t going away but its #s will never again reach it’s HeyDay.

  • JWJ

    First Mr. K, this is a really good article. Loved all the data you put into it and the writing insight.
    I’m going to disagree with some points.
    The “well-attended ” rally you linked to had several hundred people. If you can’t get several hundred leftists to attend a rally in NY, then that would be sad. Now this boycott by black NFL watchers may lower ratings, that remains to be seen.

    For the 18-24 black female cohort, the ratings dropped in 2016. You hypothesized that this might be because of domestic violence. The next black female cohort, 25-34, the ratings increased in 2016. Did it increase because of domestic violence? Also the cohorts of 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64 had their ratings increase as well. So do you still stand behind your hypothesis on the issue of domestic violence decreasing one cohort, but increasing 4 other cohorts?

    In general I have a problem with the accuracy of the date in each individual cohort. I seriously doubt that Nielsen interview enough black females in a each age cohort to be able to accurately extrapolate to a national number. How many do you think they interview in the 18-24 range per gender, 75? 150? and they get national numbers on that? What is the plus/minus number, as this is essentially polling?

    In the end, the NFL lost about 1M to 1.5M viewers last year. Somewhere between 8-12% of the NFL’s audience. The national anthem protests were certainly a strong contributing factor, a catalyst if you will. A real NFL fan (defined as someone who follows their own team AND would also watch other games [Thu night, Sun night, Mon night, second game on Sunday]) curtailed their viewing. They mostly still followed their own team, but did not watch as much of just other games.

    I’d like to throw this out there about female NFL watchers. I would hypothesize that somewhere between 60% to 80% watch the NFL because a male (father, son, brother, boyfriend, uncle, husband) in their life is watching. If that male in their life no longer is watching a game, neither is the female.
    How many females have you ever met that would make Sunday night football a destination TV watching event if they were alone, or with other strictly female friends? Of the now 16M viewers (used to be 17M) 40% might be female, so about 6M. But of that 6M, I would bet that only 2M (at most) watch the NFL if alone.

    Again, great piece.