Super Bowl LVI: When is it and why is the NFL marketed to kids?

On a sports radio show recently, a Carolina Panthers fan lamented how long it takes for a real fandom to settle in for a new NFL team.

During the early years of the franchise, he said, people cheered on the Panthers except when their previous favorite teams came to town. Then they would become Steelers, Raiders or Packers fans again. It wasn’t until a generation of Carolina kids grew up as Panthers fans that the team developed an intensely loyal fanbase.

It’s one man’s theory, but it makes sense. And that’s something the National Football League seems to understand on a molecular level. For professional football to remain profitable in the long term, it needs not only the dedication of adults, but also of children.

This is a problem for the NFL, as young Americans are increasingly losing interest in professional football, and other sports as well.

A 2020 survey found that less than a quarter of Gen Zers watch a sports game every week and almost 40% don’t watch any sports at all. They could tune in to the Super Bowl at 4:30 p.m. MST this Sunday, but not necessarily to watch the Bengals and Rams. More than any other age group, young adults are most likely to say they only watch the show to see the commercials and possibly the halftime show.

As a 2019 article in Sports Illustrated put it, “Youth appeal is a bigger business concern for the NFL than protests or concussions.” As such, the league markets itself aggressively to young Americans, using social media such as Instagram and TikTok, and the Madden video game franchise. Just over a year ago, Conor Orr wrote for Sports Illustrated: “Attempts to reach young viewers are not yet at the level of outright complacency.”

You could say pimping arrived with the NFL’s partnership with kids’ network Nickelodeon, which aired two games filled with animated “mud cannons” that celebrate touchdowns. While the show may have been aimed at kids, a colleague of mine reports that she has friends in their thirties who watched and loved it. Nickelodeon also has a series called “NFL Slimetime” that features kid-friendly game highlights, player interviews, and team highlight segments.

Will it work? As with the development of the Panthers fanbase, it will likely take a generation to see. But despite all of the NFL’s clever marketing, the league has child issues that are more difficult to address, the first being that when not sanitized and edited for Nickelodeon, the games themselves are not always child friendly.

In this, I am not talking about the gladiatorial nature of the sport and the inherent violence of 250-pound men tearing each other apart. Broadcasts are quickly interrupted when someone is injured, and injured players are quickly taken to tents.

It’s the experience of going to games that are notoriously unfriendly to families, so much so that on online forums like Quora and Reddit, people ask if it’s okay to take a child to a game. Responses often note that it is almost certain that there will be drunkenness, foul language and generally rude behavior outside the stadium and in the stands, more so during night games. In other words, try your luck, best in an afternoon game.

Of course, bad fan behavior is not unique to football, and anecdotally there seems to be it lately, from fans verbally abusing players to throwing water bottles to running on the Super Bowl ground. Plus, bad behavior is more likely to be caught on video and posted on YouTube, like that verbal altercation during a Raiders-Ravens game last September. Imagine sitting next to these guys with your 7 year old.

Five years ago, The Washington Post looked at where and when violence was most likely to occur in NFL stadiums (then the Chargers had the most arrests; the Panthers the fewest and most arrests). incidents occurred during evening games). Probably, many of these incidents are related to alcohol consumption; Researchers say nearly half of people who attend NFL games drink alcohol, and a third report they start drinking two hours before the game, a practice so common it has a name : “pre-gaming”.

The biggest problem for NFL kids, however, has nothing to do with any of this, but is the fact that, thanks to the declining fertility rate in the United States, in the decades to come, it will there will be far fewer children to woo, on Nickelodeon and elsewhere. If trends remain unchanged, American women will have about half the number of children they had in the 1950s, an average of 1.78 throughout their childbearing years. This has sobering implications for every aspect of American life, so much so that there should be a Super Bowl commercial encouraging people to have children, like the one Denmark produced a few years ago. years.

Already, people are wondering what effect a falling birth rate might have on young people’s sports participation, which is down due to competition with a myriad of other activities and parental concerns about concussions. Those concerns will eventually confront the National Football League calculators as well, and no amount of green slime will help. “Do it for Denmark,” that country’s pro-fertility ad urged reluctant couples. “Do it for the NFL,” ours might say.

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