How Football Viewership Trends Impact Brand Advertisers

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Sports bars suffered in the wake of declining NFL ratings last season, but a drop in viewership could actually benefit hardware stores, gas stations, and supermarkets, according to a new analysis just released this morning by the location intelligence company Foursquare.

Television ratings for professional football were down 9% during the regular season and 6% during the playoffs last year, leading Foursquare’s data analysis team to look at how sports bars fared during the same time period. In comparing foot traffic at sports bars during Sunday games in the 2015-2016 season to the previous year, Foursquare found double digit declines. Those drops in real world visits happened regardless of whether the local team was having a winning or losing season.

“We took the approach of doing a focused case study that zeroes in on one specific element of football fan behavior: visits to sports bars during in-season Sundays. Our numbers clearly align with other reported numbers — such as TV ratings — and offer new insight into a crucial target audience for advertisers,” says Steven Rosenblatt, president at Foursquare.

In cities with NFL teams, Sunday sports bar foot traffic dropped 12% year-over-year. In cities without NFL teams, traffic dropped 13% year-over-year. Although professional football still drives people into sports bars — with 32% more traffic on football Sundays versus non-football Sundays — declines during the season were 3x that of the rest of the year, according to Foursquare’s analysis.

“I’m a die hard sports fanatic and an especially big football fan, so this analysis was truly intriguing to me,” Rosenblatt says. “One finding that I was really interested to see was that NFL team win-loss records didn’t have an impact on how sports bars in the region fared during Sundays and that winning and losing teams alike could not buck the declining trend.”

Foursquare’s analysis relied on foot traffic data from more than 2.5 million Americans. Data collected from the company’s location-based apps, Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm, was normalized against U.S. census data to remove age, gender or geographic biases.

Instead of spending their time watching their favorite teams inside sports bars last season, consumers flocked to gas stations and hardware stores, which both saw a 12% increase in share of visits in Foursquare’s analysis. Pharmacies and supermarkets were also up by 10% and 3%, respectively.

Digging even deeper into the data, Foursquare found that Lowe’s’ share of visits grew 2x that of Home Depot’s. Shell, Chevron, and BP all came out as top winners in the gas station category, while Kroger, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s were clear winners among supermarkets.

While Foursquare’s foot traffic analysis is limited in its ability to diagnose why certain categories of businesses saw a greater share of football defectors than others, it’s safe to assume that football fans who would otherwise be watching TV at sports bars during the season were instead picking up groceries and running errands (like getting gas). Many of these consumers could have been keeping up with games on their smartphones in real-time.

“Last year had a lot of unique factors that might have contributed to the declines that we saw including the heated election cycle and scheduling issues,” Rosenblatt says. “We’re curious to see whether these trends continue to play out in the season ahead and will be closely watching for shifts in foot traffic at kickoff and in the coming months.”

For traditional advertisers, these changes could be of particular importance. If last year’s declines in NFL ratings continue, then Foursquare’s analysis indicates that liquor and beer companies might be better off advertising via the mobile channels consumers use when they’re out-and-about on game days, rather than on TV spots. As consumers move away from their TV screens at home and inside sports bars, major brand advertisers will have to get more creative in their targeting and engagement techniques.

Sports bars, supermarkets, and other businesses with brick-and-mortar locations can also take advantage of the data in Foursquare’s analysis to better inform their marketing strategies.

“Businesses that are dependent on football viewership might consider diversifying their strategies beyond promoting games since football alone might not be the hook to attract broader groups of people,” says Rosenblatt. “Marketers for supermarket, pharmacy, gas station and hardware chains should take advantage of the gains that they saw from this group, target them and measure foot traffic results to see if they can replicate—and even outperform—last year’s shift.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.




Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.