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Poll: 16% of NFL fans say they won't watch the Super Bowl

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

Super Bowl 52 is just a few days away, and after NFL regular season TV ratings fell by nearly 10% this season on average, one of the biggest questions pundits and sports media have is: Will the Super Bowl ratings be good?

If the results of a new survey from Seton Hall University are to be believed, the answer might be no.

Seton Hall surveyed 706 Americans across the country, via landlines and cellphones, from Jan. 29 to Jan. 31. The first question asked people how closely they follow the NFL. Of those who said they follow it “very closely,” a group the survey identifies as NFL fans, 16% said they won’t watch this year’s Super Bowl. The poll has a 3.8% margin of error.

Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll, calls 16% a “significant number” that “should be a concern to the league, the broadcasters and especially the advertisers.”

The poll did not ask those who say they won’t watch what their reasons are, but the political controversy that overshadowed this football season is almost surely a contributing factor.

The poll did ask people if they approved, disapproved or had no opinion about NFL players who protested during the playing of the National Anthem throughout the season. 46% of people said they disapproved of the protests.

President Trump made the NFL player protests a major talking point over the past few months, and the last Seton Hall Sports Poll, in November, found that 71% of people wanted Trump to “stay out of it.” And a separate poll last month from Survey Monkey and Ozy Media found that 33% of NFL fans “purposely stopped watching” the NFL this year, though their motivations varied.

Of course, poll results should be met with a healthy amount of skepticism, especially in the wake of the 2016 presidential election polling. And it’s certainly possible that some of the people claiming they won’t watch the game will in fact watch it.

But a drop in Super Bowl interest does match up with the fact that NFL regular season ratings have dropped two seasons in a row. And both of the past two Super Bowls saw a slight drop in total viewership from the year before.

On the other hand, the Super Bowl is thought to be a mainstream cultural event, separate from the NFL regular season. Many, many Americans watch the Super Bowl regardless of which two teams are playing, and regardless of whether they follow the NFL at all. More than 111 million people tuned in to watch Super Bowl 51. For advertisers, it’s still the biggest game in town.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) talks with wide receivers Brandin Cooks (14) and Danny Amendola (80) before a game against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 3, 2017, in Orchard Park, NY. (AP/Adrian Kraus)

Seton Hall also asked people whether the New England Patriots being in the game for the third time in four seasons makes them more or less inclined to root for them: 12% said they feel more inclined, 20% said less inclined, and 62% said it makes no difference to them.

Finally, Seton Hall asked about viewership methods: Will you watch the game on a TV, or on a mobile device like a smartphone or tablet? In 2016, 98% said they would watch on a TV. This year, that figure is down to 90%.

That may not look like a huge drop, but it reinforces a fact that everyone in the cable business has to accept: live television viewership behavior is rapidly shifting.

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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