How Fantasy Football Can Boost TV Ratings

The Growth in NFL TV Ratings 

Super Bowl 58 broke all previous records and became the most-watched TV show ever with more than 123 million viewers tuning in to watch the Kansas City Chiefs defeat the favored San Francisco 49ers in overtime. In addition to being the highest-rated TV program of all time, the game was the longest in Super Bowl history, making the viewership numbers even more impressive. Fans were glued to their TV sets and screens until the very end, watching as Mecole Hardman dashed into the end zone with the winning touchdown, destroying the hopes and dreams of millions of 49ers fans everywhere.  

The demand for the NFL continues to grow with every season and the networks recognize the value. Amazon Prime just paid $150 million for the exclusive rights to televise a playoff game next year. Television and streaming platform ratings for the 2023-2024 NFL season increased another 9% last year as an average of 38 million viewers tuned in to catch the regular season games.

During the playoffs, the combined TV and streaming platform ratings surpassed all previous viewing records as American viewers watched the run-up to the Super Bowl.

Viewership reached a peak during the Conference Championships on Sunday, January 28, 2024, when an audience of more than 120 million fans watched the 49ers overcome a 17-point halftime deficit to beat the Detroit Lions, and the Kansas City Chiefs triumphed over Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.    

How Fantasy Improves The Ratings 

Although the ‘Taylor Swift effect’ may have played a role in introducing new viewers to the NFL, a more likely explanation is the passionate Fantasy Football fan base. In February of 2022, Forbes noted that the expansion of legal sports gambling directly correlated with increased TV viewership.

In 2023, ESPN recorded a record number of 12 million fans playing Fantasy Football on their platform. This figure was up nearly 10% from the previous year’s mark, leaving no doubt that Fantasy Football games and an increase in TV viewership go hand in hand. 

Fantasy Sports players are among the most passionate and loyal fans and more than 80% of all Fantasy sports players engage in Fantasy Football. The connection between Fantasy Football Managers and their team is an intimate relationship that allows them to feel as if they are vicariously playing alongside their chosen players. The Fantasy Manager’s success within their league is based upon how their NFL players perform each week. Suddenly, the game’s statistics matter because the Manager’s fortunes could turn based on the number of passing, rushing, and receiving yards their active players accumulate in a game. For a Fantasy Football Manager, seeing their favorite team score isn’t quite as important as which player scored and earned the points.

Fantasy And The UFL 

According to the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association (FSGA) legalized sports betting grew another 10% in 2023 with more than 84.6 million adults across the U.S. engaging in Fantasy sports. With such a growing demand for Fantasy Football, it’s surprising to learn that neither Yahoo Sports nor ESPN Fantasy plans to support or promote the United Football League by introducing a spring Fantasy Football platform this year.  

In the case of Yahoo Fantasy Sports, their explanation is they’re taking a “wait and see” attitude to see if the television ratings justify offering it next year. But ESPN, which hosts the number one Fantasy sports platform, is also opting out this year. Since ESPN will be televising the UFL games along with ABC and Fox Sports, it’s even more baffling that the network has decided not to offer a Fantasy option.  

Despite the various ups and downs of both the USFL and XFL football leagues, the fans have proven that there is strong viewership interest in spring football. Dedicated NFL football fans who already feel that crushing post-Super Bowl void, would undoubtedly welcome an alternative to waiting until September to watch their favorite sport.

If the UFL games can satisfy at least a portion of that craving, the fan base will show up. In a nod to the movie, “Field of Dreams”, if the networks televise UFL games, fans will tune in. At least initially. If their home team is off to a rough start, they might not stick around for the remainder of the season.   

But by promoting and supporting a UFL Fantasy platform, the networks can attract a dedicated loyal audience and give fans a reason to tune in each week even when the home team is losing. Wouldn’t it make sense for the ESPN sports network to promote the games by engaging their fan base at the start of the season? There’s no better way to accomplish that objective than with a UFL Fantasy component that would guarantee season-long fan engagement.

Main Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Fantastic article!!! The author is a great writer!!!!

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