SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

AFL sees viewership, attendance drop despite new markets

Regular-season viewership and average attendance for the Arena Football League is down despite the indoor league adding four new markets at the start of its 2011 season.

The 18-team league was averaging 7,659 fans a game entering the final weekend of its 18-game regular season, which ended Saturday. Last season, the 15-team AFL had a regular-season average of 8,138 fans a game. The league begins its postseason on Friday.

Through July 21, the Orlando Predators led the AFL in average attendance, with 12,414 fans a game. The Milwaukee Mustangs were last, with an average of 4,000 fans.

“The economy is still challenging us, and we have to be smart and do creative things to expose our sport to people who don’t know about us,” said AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz.

The AFL this season put new teams in Pittsburgh, San Jose, Kansas City and Philadelphia, while shuttering its Oklahoma City franchise. All the new teams except Pittsburgh played in the old AFL, which shut down in 2009. The AFL also moved its Bossier City, La., team to New Orleans and its Mobile, Ala., team to Atlanta.

But the push into new and larger markets did not boost viewership on NFL Network, which televised AFL games every Friday night throughout the league’s regular season, from March 11 to July 22.

Heading into its last regular-season game last Friday, viewership of the AFL on NFL Network was down 27 percent from last year. The league this season averaged 65,000 viewers a game over 19 games, compared with an average of 89,000 viewers over 17 games heading into the league’s last game on NFL Network in 2010, according to The Nielsen Co.

The AFL did add three new founding sponsors — NAPA Auto Parts, the National Guard and Aaron’s — at the start of the 2011 season.

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