October 24, 2017

AdAge.com Writer Tries to Cover Up NFL’s Ratings and Attendance Slides

Last week, Anthony Crupi at AdAge.com was either willfully ignorant or deliberately deceptive when he claimed that the size of the National Football League’s TV ratings decline is inconsequential. Crupi also appears to be quite wrong in contending that actual game attendance — not reported attendance, but “turnstile” attendance — during the 2017 season is only barely down compared to last year.

At the very least, many photos taken during games at several stadiums in the past two weeks (Weeks 6 and this past Sunday’s Week 7 of the 17-week NFL regular season) render that contention highly questionable.

The AdAge.com writer was also cited in a September 24 “Fact Check” at the left-biased, left-funded Politifact, which at the time predictably evaluated a claim made by President Donald Trump — that, in the President’s words, “NFL attendance and ratings are WAY DOWN. Boring games yes, but many stay away because they love our country.” — as “Mostly False.”

Crupi’s contribution to that evaluation was a ratings-related statement estimating, in Politifact’s words, “a decline of around 9 percent in (TV) ratings since last year …”

The idea that a 9 percent ratings decline, though still early in the regular season, was relatively unimportant, and enough to render Trump’s statement “Mostly False,” is absurd.

Let’s try this to gauge the seriousness of that 9 percent decline: Cut staff salaries at Politifact and AdAge.com by 9 percent for the next 12 months, and then see at the end of that period if employees believe it’s “mostly false” that their living standards suffered.

As to “turnstile attendance, the figures Crupi cites appear to be quite inflated.

Here is the related ratings-related excerpt from his October 17 AdAge.com column, following his untoward reveling in his Politifact glory (link is in original; bolds are mine throughout this post):

According to Nielsen data, the various NFL telecasts—including the Sunday regional and national games and the prime-time Sunday, Monday and Thursday night packages—are averaging 15.6 million viewers through Week 6, which is down just 5 percent from a year earlier.

Bleacher Report begs to disagree on the degree of the decline, while also quoting Nielsen data, citing a drop that’s 50 percent larger: “NFL Ratings Down 7.5 Percent Compared to First 6 Weeks of 2016 Season.” Additionally, per Bleacher Report, “current ratings … (are) down 18.7 percent from where they were after the six-week mark in 2015.”

Here’s what Crupi later wrote about this year’s “turnstile attendance” vs. last year through Week 6:

Season-to-date, NFL stadiums are averaging a draw of 64,277 fans per week, which marks a slight 3 percent year-to-year decline compared to the 66,496 fans who passed through the turnstiles during each of the first six weeks in 2016.

Crupi didn’t provide a link to his 2017 and 2016 turnstile attendance figures.

For those who don’t realize it, the NFL’s officially published attendance figures do not represent fans who “passed through the turnstiles.” This has been the case for decades.

In late September 2006, Sarah Talalay at South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel reported the truth about how attendance figures were and still are reported:

Not What You Think

As Long As A Ticket Is Paid For, Teams Count It For A Game’s Attendance. Whether Fans Actually Show Up And Fill The Seats Doesn’t Change That.

… The (Miami Dolphins home) game (that week) was declared a sellout and was televised across South Florida with an announced crowd of 72,733, but with several pockets of empty seats the attendance appeared to be closer to 60,000.

… across professional sports “attendance” hasn’t meant the number of bodies in the stadium or arena for some time.

The most complete data I found consistent with officially reported NFL tickets-sold attendance at FoxSports.com (all figures there agree with Week 6 and Week 7 box scores) is at Pro-Football-Reference.com. As seen below, that site shows average game attendance through Week 6 of 67,809:

NFLattendanceThruWeek7in2017

Thus, the unlinked data Crupi has cited as “turnstile attendance” through Week 6 represents a no-show rate of just over 5 percent.

That’s highly unlikely. The following games, representing just over 20 percent of the Week 6 and 7 contests (plus one other noted near the end of this post), would seem to indicate that the remaining games played during those two weeks had to have virtually zero no-shows for Crupi’s no-show percentage to reflect current reality (attendance figures listed use the NFL’s tickets-sold definition):

SixLowAttendanceNFLgamesWk6and7in2017

Additionally (supporting table is here), note that the NFL’s reported attendance for all but two Week 6 and Week 7 games represented 97 percent and 96 percent of the total capacity of all stadiums involved (Week 7′s capacity percentage at the link excludes home games of the two Los Angeles NFL teams, both of whose crowds have been far short of their stadiums’ capacity).

Click on the thumbnails to see the photos taken either at kickoff time or during the six games listed above in separate tabs or windows:

NEatNYJweek6in2017 LARatJAXweek6in2017 CARatCHIweek7in2017

TENatCLEweek7in2017 JAXatINDweek7in2017 NYJatMiIAweek7in2017

Notes, in order from left to right, then top to bottom:

  • NE at NYJ, Week 6 — this photo, taken during a controversial play late in the game, appears to show a pretty full stadium, until one looks at the virtually empty upper-upper deck. Meeting the “Crupi standard” for show-ups would would require MetLife stadium turnstile attendance to have been about 89 percent of capacity. I don’t think so, especially because CBS Sports commented that there were “lots of empty seats as frustrated Jets fans apparently stayed home.”
  • LAR at JAX, Week 6 — The Crupi standard requirement here is turnstile attendance of about 80 percent of capacity. No way; I’d give it 60 percent, at best.
  • CAR at CGO, Week 7 — Crupi standard: about 95 percent of capacity. This one’s the toughest to evaluate based on the photo above, but the accompanying tweet reports that there were “a lot of empty seats.” More convincing evidence of many thousands of empty seats is here.
  • TEN at CLE, Week 7 — Crupi standard: about 80 percent of capacity. FirstEnergy Stadium may have been half-full.
  • JAX at IND, Week 7 —Crupi Standard: about 91 percent of capacity. The glare of the lights in the photo makes estimation difficult, but a tweet from the game describes Lucas Oil Stadium as “very, very empty.”
  • NYJ at MIA, Week 7 —The Crupi standard: about 94 percent of capacity. Give me a break. The Miami Dolphins were lucky if it got to 75 percent, and an observer tweeted that “Nobody cares about Jet(s) or Dolphins.”

To meet the Crupi standard requiring a 5.2 percent or lower overall no-show rate for all games, total no-shows during Weeks 6 and 7 could not have totaled more than about 105,000 (about 3,600 per game times 29 games played). My back-of-envelope estimates for the six games pictured above is that they have about 75,000 no-shows. Additionally, the Empty Seats Twitter account has a photo showing tens of thousands of fans not present at a San Francisco 49ers game the NFL officially reported as sold-out. That shortfall easily brings the no-show total above the 105,000 benchmark, and no one can credibly claim that there were zero no-shows at the other twenty-plus Week 6 and Week 7 games.

One certainly hopes that advertisers and post-event watering holes in the areas of these stadiums who have CEOs and shareholders to whom they must answer aren’t buying what this AdAge.com writer is trying to sell.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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