If you read this article after reading our recent research on the NFL’s concussion problems, you might think we have something against the league. We really don’t. In fact, as Pittsburghers, most of us at CivicScience are rabid Steelers fans and want nothing more than a healthy NFL. Unfortunately, the league can’t seem to catch a break right now.

Last year, we surveyed a representative sample of U.S. adults to gauge their likelihood to watch Super Bowl 50 between the Broncos and Panthers. Here were those numbers:
44% of people were "Very Likely" to watch the Super Bowl last year, which is not the same this year.

Now look at the results to the same exact question asked this past week about Super Bowl LI (that’s 51, for those of you who don’t speak Roman):
Only 38% of people are "Very Likely" to watch the Super Bowl this year, when it was 44% last year.

That’s a pretty big difference. People who say they are “Very Likely” to watch the game has dropped from 44% of respondents to 36% (a net drop of about 18%). The number of people who say they are “Not at All Likely” to watch increased from 31% to 34% (a net jump of over 9%). The remaining movement can be seen in the “Somewhat Likely” crowd, suggesting that the league might still be able to attract some fence-sitters.


We wanted to see if we could figure out WHO might be less likely to watch this year:

The biggest declines in intended viewership appear to be among men. Last year, men made up 59% of the “very likely” viewers, compared to just 56% this year. Men who are “Not at All Likely” climbed from 37% in 2016 to 41% this year. Meanwhile, Gen Xers represent the age group with biggest year-over-year attrition, dropping from 40% of the “Very Likely” crowd in 2016 to 37% in 2017.

The percentage of Millennials and Gen Xers who say they are “not at all likely” to watch this year both increased by 3%, respectively. In other words, the largest case of potential decreased viewership appears to be among Men ages 18-54.


If you’re wondering whether the decline has anything to do with the current political environment (because what doesn’t right now?), you may be on to something. Last year, 47% of Republicans said they were “very likely” to watch the game. This year, it dropped to 42%. This could simply be a function of the fact that 18-54 y/o men are more likely to be Republicans. Or it could mean that Trump hysteria is still dominating everyone’s viewing attention, not allowing all the typical pre-Super Bowl hype to work its magic.      

Ultimately, a lot of things could explain the difference between this year and last. The league had trouble maintaining its following throughout the election. This year’s game doesn’t have the mainstream, feel-good story that Peyton Manning brought last year. But, in the league’s defense, a lot could change between now and Sunday. Growing curiosity over a potential political statement in Lady Gaga’s halftime performance could bring a last-minute wave of new viewers.

I, for one, will definitely be watching – and hoping that the Super Bowl ends up bringing Americans together – if only for a day, the way only the Super Bowl can do.

Interested in other insights? Check out our recent posts on consumer privacy, the Women’s March, and our attempt to find some gray in a time of black and white.