Data shows audience of casual sports fans could be eroding

By John Ourand

The number of pay-TV subscribers dropped another 4.6% in Q2, according to research from MoffettNathanson. “We have now settled into a consistent pattern of steep declines in traditional video subscribers of close to 8% per year ... which are not being offset by the growth in virtual MVPDs like YouTube TV or Hulu Live,” the financial analysts wrote in the report, released yesterday. But there is potentially worse news: Subscriber declines, combined with sports TV viewership drops, suggest that the base of casual sports fans could be eroding as well. Super fans seek out games; casual fans watch games after interest is built through media mentions. The concern is if those casual fans are leaving the pay-TV environment, they won’t be inclined to check out live sports, which is a theory that should terrify all leagues and sports networks. MoffettNathanson: “To be clear, we’re not calling the end of sports fandom here. We are simply conceding that our previous hypotheses about sports fandom serving as a ‘floor’ for Pay TV subscribership may be too simplistic. In fact, like almost all sociological phenomena, sports fandom is likely much more complicated than that. Sports fandom won’t just shape the decline of Pay TV subscribership ... It will be shaped by Pay TV subscribership.”

OTHER VOICES, MORE DATA: In Philadelphia, Christian Hetrick cited MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett as saying that a "decade of cord-cutting has put the sports media ecosystem under strain." Moffett noted ratings for the Tokyo Games fell 40% from the '16 Rio Games. Moffett: “The real problem here is the Olympics are a made-for-TV event, and we’re in a post-TV world” (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 9/13).'s Michael King cited MoffettNathanson findings that vMVPDs (virtual multichannel video program distributors) -- such as Hulu, YouTube TV, Sling TV, fuboTV -- "gained 227,000 subscribers in Q2." That "may seem impressive, but it’s well below the 347,000 increase a year earlier." Coronavirus lockdowns "likely led to the greater acceleration a year ago." Per to MoffettNathanson, vMVPDs currently have about 12 million subscribers, but the "rate of conversion -- or consumers who switch from a traditional pay-TV service to a vMVPD service -- is only about 32%" (, 9/13).

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