Here’s Another Reason Why the NFL Is Struggling: Football Fans Are Watching Fewer Games at Bars

Foursquare data reveals people are running errands instead

Per Foursquare, visits to bars were down in both cities with an NFL team and cities without a team. Getty Images
Headshot of Lauren Johnson

Football may be America’s most-watched sport, but the National Football League’s sinking ratings last year has observers questioning how the league will fare this year, especially since live sports has long been viewed as crucial in keeping consumers and high-paying advertisers glued to TV sets.

Heading into the first games of the season next month, Foursquare is releasing some intriguing data about foot traffic to bars and restaurants suggesting that at the very least, sports fans aren’t watching games while out and about with friends at bars. Based on data from the company’s always-on foot traffic panel—which includes data from 2.5 million Americans—Foursquare analyzed visits to sports bars during the previous two seasons in cities with and without NFL teams.

The firm estimates that between 2015 and 2016, foot traffic on Sunday game days dropped 13 percent year over year for cities that do not have a team and 12 percent for cities with a team.

When looking specifically at a group of consumers who went to a sports bar more than six times during the NFL’s 17-week season in 2015, only 40 percent visited a sports bar as frequently in 2016. And among people who went to a sports bar more than three times during the 2015 football season, 2016 foot traffic sank 10 percent. Foursquare noted that women and millennials were most likely to ditch sports bars but visits among all demographics dipped.

While overall traffic to sports bars was down 4 percent for all of 2016, football season continued to drive foot traffic for sports bars compared to the rest of the year. Per Foursquare, foot traffic spikes 32 percent for bars located near an NFL team on Sundays during football season compared to Sundays during the offseason. That said, “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,” wrote Foursquare president Steven Rosenblatt in a blog post.

Instead, bar goers frequented shops for Sunday errands in 2016. Traffic in gas stations and hardware stories increased 12 percent year over year during Sunday game days while pharmacies were up 10 percent and supermarkets were up 3 percent. Specifically, traffic to Shell, Kroger and Lowe’s increased.

“Savvy marketers should not only weigh traditional, big-dollar TV ad buys but also need to leverage insights about how else they can reach this valuable target audience,” Rosenblatt noted. “Should a growing faction of football fans head out for groceries, gas and home repair items on Sundays this year instead of watching from the bar, advertisers could score big using other creative techniques and targeting.”

The infographic below breaks down foot traffic for bars in Massachusetts and Ohio regions, representing New England Patriots fans and Cleveland Brown fans. Even though the Patriots won the Super Bowl and the Browns had the worst record in football, the data shows that foot traffic was down for both teams, suggesting that a team’s performance did not factor into whether someone watched a game.

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@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.