NFL Favorability at 67% as Fans Back Vaccination, Digital Tickets

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Earlier this week, Sportico valued the average NFL team at $3.5 billion—evidence of the league’s monumental financial weightbut while a majority of people like the NFL, not everyone is enamored. Among the general public, 67% has a favorable opinion of the NFL, just a tick ahead of the NCAA (66%), according to a survey of nearly 2,000 Americans conducted by Harris Poll in collaboration with Sportico. Only a quarter of Americans (25%) have a “very favorable” opinion of the league.

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Youth football participation has declined over the past decade, but young fans actually have a more positive opinion of the NFL than their older counterparts. Only 61% of Boomers have a favorable view of the league, compared to at least 69% of each younger generation. In contrast, NCAA favorability varies little across age groups.

NFL popularity also differs based on political affiliation. Democrats (79%) are much more likely to have a favorable view of the league than Republicans (59%) and independents (57%). Meanwhile, the same holds true of the NCAA, but to a much lesser extent, with 74% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans in favor of the organization.

Interestingly, commissioner Roger Goodell holds just a 57% favorability rating, considerably lower than the league he runs. Among NFL fans, however, 67% have a positive opinion of him.

Vaccination

On Tuesday, the Seattle Seahawks became the third NFL team to announce a vaccine-related attendance policy for the upcoming season. The Seahawks and New Orleans Saints will require fans to provide either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, while the Las Vegas Raiders will outright require vaccination. Some 66% of Americans say their NFL or college football team should require vaccination for all fans in attendance at games.

Even as more Americans are getting immunized, public opinion on vaccine mandates in sports has not shifted in the past year; 69% of people say that the NFL should have made vaccination mandatory for all players and coaching staff, nearly identical to the 67% and 68% who shared that opinion in January and June, respectively.

Obviously, those vaccinated are more in favor, but a significant 43% of unvaccinated Americans still think that the NFL should have instituted a mandate. Despite not doing so, the league did devote resources toward getting players vaccinated over the summer, and subsequently half of its teams have vaccination rates over 95%.

Digital Ticketing

The NFL has become the first major sports league to require paperless ticketing, a move that was justified by COVID-19 concerns but has the other potential motivation of data collection. Nearly 97% of NFL Week 1 preseason attendees used mobile tickets, and as a result, more than 144,000 new customers were added to the league’s digital database.

More than three-quarters (76%) of Americans believe the NFL is right in its decision, including 81% of NFL fans. That level of support is notable given potential ramifications for fans who enjoy collecting physical tickets and those with concerns over data security, not to mention the roughly 15% of Americans who don’t own smartphones, according to The Athletic. Interestingly, older generations, who are less accustomed to new technology, are no less likely to agree with the NFL’s decision.

Unsurprisingly, 82% of vaccinated Americans agree with the ticketing policy on the basis of increased COVID precautions, while just 63% of those unvaccinated say the same. That divide, however, may be inextricably linked to another demographic split: 89% of Democrats agree with the decision to institute digital ticketing, but just 65% of Republicans.