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The NFL has an age problem

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The kids aint payin attention like they used to.

16-year old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf celebrates after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Jul. 28, 2019
16-year old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf celebrates after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo final at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Jul. 28, 2019
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The World Cup was this weekend.

No, not the FIFA World Cup. Not the Rugby World Cup. Not the Cricket World Cup.

This weekend was the Fortnite World Cup.

Held in front of a sold-out crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City this weekend, the event was clearly a hit. The YouTube broadcast of the solo finals yesterday has already cleared 10m views. At one point, more than 1m were watching the livesteam on Twitch yesterday.

It was obviously a massive production.

And it wasn’t on television.

As the finals came to an end, here’s what was available to me on television:

  • FOX: NHRA drag racing
  • NBC: IndyCar
  • ABC: Religious infomercial
  • CBS: PGA
  • ESPN: “The basketball tournament”
  • ESPN2: E:60
  • CBS Sports: Motorcycle racing
  • FS1: bowling
  • NBC Sports: NASCAR

I was surprised. Baffled, really. I tweeted the question asking why it wasn’t being broadcast on TV in case there were any discerning minds that could help me understand; that was a bad idea (stay off Twitter, folks).

So as the youngs took over my timeline today, I wrestled with it. It clearly had nothing to do with sheer attention. The event was so popular that the solo final champion, 16-year old Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, won $3m, a much higher purse than many well-known sports events’ championship pay:

But as I thought about it being assailed by masses of kids on Twitter, I realized I was only being assailed by kids. It was nothing like the normal demographic of NFL fans I interact with daily.

And that’s why it wasn’t broadcast on television.

Because the kids aren’t watching.


This piece from the New York Times last May revealed how sharp the decline in television viewership is overall but especially for younger Americans. In a study from April, Viewers aged 18-34 had a HUGE drop in Q3 from 2018 declining 17.2% from the year prior. The MTV Movie Awards, that paragon of young TV viewers? Down 46%.

Television is a medium that is increasingly servicing an older demographic.

And it’s a problem for the NFL.

Consider:

A less reassuring data point for the pro football industry is that the younger the fan, the less likely they are to be a regular viewer. The 21- to 24-year-old bracket expressed the least loyalty.

And:

According to Radio + Television Business Report (RBR.com) the age of live sports viewers is scewing older. Much older. Today the average NFL viewer is at least 50.

...

To understand what’s happening with NFL ratings we really don’t have to look much further than simple demographics -- the aging of the U.S. population -- and the change in viewing behavior from older groups to younger groups.

...

Today the NFL has a much bigger task of making changes to attract young people as viewers. Should leaders shorten the game’s length? Should they change rules to increase scoring and create more excitement during the game? Should they invest in more apps to engage viewers in play-by-play activity? Should they seek out ways to allow more gambling during the game? Whatever leadership does, the traditions of the NFL need to be tested and altered in order to attract new people to watching the game if they want to preserve the advertising dollars that make it a success.

No coincidence that the Rams launched their YouTube channel...yesterday.


I attended an event in June hosted by the Pro Football Retired Players Association (PFRPA) at the Dallas Mavericks Gaming Hub. The PFRPA works to advance the causes of required players once their careers are over and beyond the timeline the NFL Players Association works off of. I met dozens of former players some who had played for more than a decade, some undrafted free agents that spent a year or two. There was a buzz in the air as the event started. It wasn’t over the NFL alums.

It was over the gamers.

I get that’s anecdotal, but it was overwhelming to see the celebrity of gamers in front of me. I suppose part of that is my ignorance re: eSports and lack of interest, but the juxtaposition of the overwhelming interest in the gamers and the lack of interest in the NFL players was a stark message to me is for older sports fans.

Now it’s not a blanket statement. Obviously, there are tons of NFL fans under 30. And certainly, there are gamers and eSports fans over 50 (I mean, there’s gotta be, right?). But the needle is moving in a very specific way for young sports fans.


Last week, Echo Fox’s League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) slot sold for $30.25 million. It was a major development for one of the biggest eSports tournaments and one based out of Riot Games’ studios in Los Angeles.

The NFL needs that kind of ownership awareness. They need businesspeople with the kind of acumen to identify growing trends in the sports world and market them to younger, more diverse audiences than the NFL’s older, mostly white fan base. They need leaders like the one that made that investment in the LCS.

The person that made that $30m investment?

Rams Owner Stan Kroenke.