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Study: Fewer Sports Fans Watching Entire Games

Jeff Kotuby

Viewers are less likely to plop down and watch a full game, especially when basketball or baseball are on their TV screens. A new study conducted for Variety shows that the way fans consume sporting events is changing from long-form viewing to bite-sized, accessible chunks.

NFL, NBA, and MLB fans aged 18-34 said that they prefer watching highlights to full games, especially when compared to other demographics. Take the NFL, for example. Among football fans, 48 percent of 18-34 year-old NFL fans said they preferred clips to actual games, while only 20 percent of 35-49-year-olds said the same, and only 11 percent of fans over 50 agreed. There isn’t as much disparity in the other sports, especially when it comes to the NBA, where even 40 percent of 50+ hoops fans say they’d rather watch highlights than the full game.

For those who do watch the games in real time, many won’t tune in until the end. Half of NBA fans under 35 wait until the fourth quarter to watch, along with 38% of viewers 35-49, and 39% of those over 50. In 2018, the NBA added the ability to purchase the fourth quarter of out-of-market games for just $1.99.

Younger baseball fans just wait until the final innings. Among MLB fans 18-34, a whopping 54% wait until the end of a game to watch, followed by 33% of fans 35-49, and 20% of fans over 50.

It’s only the NFL where fans want to watch the whole game — just 36% of those 18-34, 22% of those 35-49 and 18% of those 50+ think the games aren’t worth watching until the end.

The gist here is that a large percentage of younger fans aren’t watching full games or even watching full seasons of sports. Younger viewers find the regular season too boring to watch, especially when it comes to the NBA and MLB, and more say that even the playoffs are too long. While other generations seem to agree that NBA and MLB playoffs drag on forever, nobody else seems to think 13 total NFL playoff games are too many.

Certain streaming platforms, like YouTube TV, have embraced this shift in viewing practices by offering a “catch-up through key plays” option for viewers jumping into a game that’s already in progress. Both MLB.TV and NHL.TV, offer a similar feature for out-of-market telecasts. For NFL games, those auto-generated highlights consist of touchdowns, turnovers, and big plays — on offense and defense.

Despite all these negative feelings, though, a majority of younger fans still identify as loyal sports fans, saying watching their preferred game is one of their favorite things to do in life. Fans are still engaged, they’re just engaging with their sports leagues differently. The trick for these leagues is to understand how to embrace this new “fluid” fan who loves sports clips and video games, and who doesn’t need to watch an entire game to stay engaged.

You can read the full report on Variety’s website.

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