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Do Gen Z & Millennials Watch Football? The Answer in 3 Stats

With the NFL season kicking off this week, we asked how many young consumers plan on tuning in—and looked at three stats to gauge their interest in watching football…


The NFL season is starting tonight, and marketers are eager to buy up time during the games. Adweek is reporting a record “volume of business” for football in 2021 with advertisers embracing football as a reliable channel to viewers in a time of entertainment uncertainty. And certainly the league is doing everything to make sure that the season forges forward, even amidst COVID. According to the NFL, 93% of players and more than 99% of coaches and team staffers are vaccinated. Ticket sales are going strong, and the league is expecting to host a complete season with full stadiums.

But will young viewers be tuning in to see all those vaccinated players, and those ads? We looked to our recent Scouting Next Gen Sports Fans trend report and sports and athletics behavioral report, which explored the role of sports in young consumers’ lives, and found three stats on Gen Z and Millennials’ viewership of football and the NFL from our data to paint a full picture of what to expect for this NFL season: 

A third of young consumers say they follow NFL football.

YPulse’s sports and athletics behavioral report asks young people what leagues they follow, and found that 39% of 13-39-year-olds say they follow the NFL. The percentage is higher among Millennials— significantly. Forty-four percent of the older gen  say they follow NFL football compared to only 25% of Gen Z. And of course, the numbers are significantly higher among young males as well, with 49% of 13-39-year-old males saying they follow NFL football compared to 29% of 13-39-year-old females. The league has been working overtime to connect with young fans: Pro football players have joined TikTok to build followings off the field, while the NFL announced a partnership with TikTok—and have launched sponsored hashtags like #GoingPro to get young people excited about the draft, and #weready, which has over one billion views, to generate excitement for opening day. We also told you how the NFL is the top league with a top YScore+ among Gen Z and Millennials, which indicates its popularity among young viewers.

Nearly half of 13-39-year-olds watch football on-screen.

While YPulse’s Scouting Next Gen Sports Fans trend research found that young consumers are certainly not committed to watching live sports, and are fueling major changes in how sports entertainment needs to be delivered, 47% of 13-39-year-olds do say they usually watch football on-screen, indicating that plenty of young people are still tuning into the sport. Looking at both generations, it is slightly higher among Millennials, with 50% saying they watch football on-screen compared to 42% of Gen Z. Breaking it down by gender, unsurprisingly the percentages are again higher among males—with 53% of 13-39-year-old males saying they usually watch football on-screen compared to 41% of 13-39-year-old females. However, the difference between genders is not as significant as some might assume and does signal that brands need to pay attention to young female football fans as welll. Today, we used our on-demand research tool PULSE to ask 16-34-year-old Gen Zs and Millennials about their NFL viewing plans—and nearly half of them said they would be watching this season—keeping steady with last year’s results, and aligning with the number of young people who tell us they usually watch football. We also asked them how they plan to watch, and live on TV was the top response, with 52% saying they’ll be watching on that screen. However, that does mean that half of those who plan to watch the games will be watching other ways, including streaming online and following clips on social media.

A quarter of Millennial males are part of a fantasy football league. 

YPulse’s sports and athletics survey found that 25% of 20-38-year-old males are part of a fantasy football league, compared to 12% of 20-38-year-old females,19% of 13-19-year-old males and only 3% of 13-19-year-old females. Fantasy football has become a major part of viewership for Millennial males, who want to feel involved in the competition. In fact, 23% of male sports fans tell YPulse they  are fans because they get to be in a fantasy league, and 28% agree “If it weren’t for fantasy leagues, I wouldn’t be a fan of sports.” Fantasy football is the most popular kind of fantasy league among young consumers, and young males. Today’s PULSE survey also found that nearly 30% of 16-34-year-olds who plan to watch the NFL season will play fantasy football. We recently told you how half of young sports fans are betting on sports—so much that a third say they only think sports is interesting if betting is involved. The NFL is finally embracing sports better, and newer tools are making it more appealing to the fantasy football community, which could mean that the interest around joining a fantasy football league will only grow among young viewers.

YPulse Business users can access the full Scouting Next Gen Sports Fans trend report and sports and athletics behavioral report.

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