Why we're watching Sunday sports bar visits
With the NFL's opening day kickoff just a few short weeks away, there are questions about how ratings will fare this year. The 2016 season saw an 8% decline in TV viewers, which has been attributed to many causes — from TV scheduling issues to the heated election cycle to the new ways consumers can access scores. There's optimism for the season ahead since game schedules have been reworked and the election is behind us, but we'll be watching closely: a continued dip in viewership could begin to impact the most lucrative professional sport in the country (as well as the advertising industry that leverages it).
We at Foursquare recognize that we can use our proprietary location intelligence to measure certain trends, which may shed new light on NFL viewing habits and uncover surprising areas where the trends play out. Plus, we can uniquely reveal insights for advertisers about football fans, their changing habits and fresh ways to engage them. Hence our case study: sports bars on Sundays.
Using our best-in-class foot traffic data, we are able to uncover unique insights into what we are calling ‘football defectors' to better understand how habits shifted in 2016. What we found: Across cities with and without NFL teams, Sunday sports bar foot traffic dropped by double digits between the 2015 and 2016 season with a 12% YoY drop for cities with teams and a 13% YoY drop for those without.
Despite this decline, we know that football drives sports bar visits — sports bars in regions with NFL teams see a lift of 32% on football Sundays over non-football Sundays following the end of the season. And yet, it seems fewer Americans are going to sports bar throughout the year: visits are down by 4%. But since in-season declines were 3x that of the rest of the year, it suggests a potential problem for football if repeated again this season.
In 2016, even teams with winning records didn't buck the trend. Visits to sports bars on Sundays declined just as much in regions/cities with strong teams, like New England, Dallas and Kansas City, as those in the midst of losing seasons like Los Angeles, Chicago and Jacksonville.
Who's going less?
Last year's decline was driven by all levels of football fans: from fair-weather fans who had previously gone to a sports bar just a few times in the season to dedicated Sunday sports bar-goers who ventured out for more than a third of the Sunday games.
Foursquare's data reveals that in 2016, there was a 10% decline in people who went to a sports bar more than three times times during the 17-week season. More passionate fans — those who visited sports bars on Sundays more than six times during the 2015 season — declined even more significantly, with only 40% going to a sports bar as often in 2016 as they did in the 2015 season. Women and Millennials were the biggest defectors from sports bars, although all demographic groups saw defection.
Where are football fans spending their time instead?
Nothing else united these defectors the way that football did, but it seems that places for Sunday errands picked up a notable amount of foot traffic share. We saw the share of in-season Sunday visits to shops and services grow by 3.2% YoY during the 2016 season.
Gas stations and hardware stores both saw a 12% increase in share of visits from this group, pharmacies 10% and supermarkets 3%. Chains that won big? Shell, Chevron and BP in the gas category; Kroger, Safeway and Trader Joe's for supermarkets; and both Home Depot and Lowe's (Lowe's share of visits grew 2x Home Depot's).
Fans might be shifting their viewership habits by running errands and picking up groceries to enjoy later, while watching the game at home, or perhaps they were out and about, checking scores on their mobile devices. If they persist, these shifting patterns may indicate continued declines in viewership during this year's football season. Decreased viewership may also equal decreased marketing spend for traditional TV; marketers should reconsider their strategy when it comes to targeting this audience. Additionally, liquor and beer advertisers may want to reconsider expectations for the 2017–18 football season, and work with on-premise distributors and liquor stores to develop new promotional opportunities to drive more Sunday bar traffic. The same recommendation goes for QSR chains that rely on gametime diners.
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. 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. We'll keep a close eye on the latest foot traffic trends, supporting partners as they navigate this playing field to efficiently target consumers as they move through their cities on game days — and measure success accordingly. Game on!
For more information about Foursquare and how location intelligence can inform advertising, measurement and more, visit https://enterprise.foursquare.com/ or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Foursquare analyzes foot traffic data from more than 2.5 million Americans that make up our always-on foot traffic panel. Our location-based apps Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm help us understand trends and notable societal shifts. Our user data is always anonymized and aggregated. All data was normalized against U.S. census data in order to ensure that the analysis accurately reflects the U.S. population, and removes any age, gender or geographical bias.
In this analysis, Foursquare's data scientists looked at visits — including both explicit check-ins (from Foursquare Swarm) and passive visits (from both apps) — to sports bars across U.S both during Sundays that fall within the NFL's season as well as the rest of the year for 2015 and 2016.