SBJ/20100104/Up Next

Watching sports more on TV? Time, money likely explain why

Television ratings have delivered good news to the sports industry in the last few months. Several sports are seeing increased audience numbers and even record levels of viewing.

Rather than speculate on who is watching more and why, the November 2009 Luker on Trends/ICR Survey of 1,012 Americans ages 18 and older asked whether, compared with last year, they were enjoying sports more or less and watching sports more or less. For those watching more, they were asked how big a reason time, finances and the enjoyment of sports were in their decision to watch more sports.

More Americans are enjoying sports. The percent of Americans saying they are enjoying sports more now than they did a year ago has increased from 22.2 percent in the August 2009 survey to 36.1 percent in November.

The ratings may be up, but the number of people watching sports has stayed the same. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they are watching more, another 36 percent said they are watching less, and 27 percent said they are watching the same as last year. So we are not adding new sports fans. Increased ratings are coming from more hours viewed by people who were already watching sports. In fact, nearly half of the increased viewing is coming from the 30 percent of Americans who are the most avid sports fans.

But why are they watching more? There was not one dominant reason. And the practical reasons have more to do with it than an increased love of sports. Time, cost and love of the games were a factor for nearly two-thirds who said they watch more, and at least one of these was a big reason for more than half the respondents.

Where’s the hope and encouragement?

The most important trends in increased enjoyment were age and income related. The younger the respondent, generally the more likely they were to say they are enjoying sports more now. This counters an overall trend of more than five years that has seen interest levels decline particularly in the youngest demographics.

The Top Five: Enhancing the American sports experience
In the November 2009 Luker on Trends/ICR Survey we asked respondents, “Which company did the most this year to try and make sports more enjoyable for Americans?” The results were a telling reminder of the work that remains to be done. Nearly half (47.5 percent) said they either didn’t know or there was none. The companies that will get the most out of their sports investments are those that do the most to clearly enhance the access and enjoyment in sports, especially now.
Rank Company Percent
1 Anheuser-Busch 15.35
2 Nike 3.8
3 Pepsi 1.82
4 Coors 1.76
5 Ford 1.66
The cost of attending a game was one of the top reasons for watching more sports on TV.
Percent saying this is a “big reason” why they are watching more sports on TV:
Have more time 36.5
Can’t afford to go 34.1
I’m enjoying sports more 24.9
Source: Luker on Trends/ICR Survey, November 2009. 1,012 telephone surveys of U.S. adults 18 and older. Margin of error: +/- 3 percent

The American love of sport peaked in the 12- to 17-year-old category for years, if not decades. But if recent declines in youth interest continue, the size of the overall American fan base will be in jeopardy as well. Simply put, we learn to love sports as kids. If kids are saying they love sports less, we are losing the base. There are still clear signs of caution in these results. The highest level of enjoyment was among those 25 to 34 years old, not the youngest group. There is still work to do.

On the income front, it has been the case for more than a decade that the more money a person makes, the more interested they are in sports (see chart on interest by income). The disparity in sports interest by income has been true for years, but not a point of focus because it was generally thought that the enjoyment of sports was financially within reach for most Americans. We now know that’s not true. However, in the November study, the lower the income, the more the respondent was enjoying sports now compared with a year ago.

But having sports in reach is a bigger issue for the lowest income groups. For those earning less than $30,000 a year, not being able to afford going to the games was the biggest reason for watching more (53 percent) on TV, followed by having more time (50 percent). 

There is a bigger issue of hope to keep in mind here. While most of us in the sports industry are focused on keeping our businesses afloat, we need to remember that the financial success of sports is not why we enjoy or watch the games. From my earlier research, I am reminded that the biggest value of being a sports fan is having hope for the outcome and sharing that hope with those who feel the same way. Every game is a short lifetime. At the start of every game, I have a new hope. With a win I get the elation of success, and with a loss, the knowledge that another new life will come again soon. We know our “real lives” don’t start and end as quickly, and in these days to be sure, real life does not deliver hope of elation to us as readily as the start of the next game.

Rich Luker ( is a consultant with The Luker Co.

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