I'd like to know the growth/decline rates in viewership of live sports--NBA, NFL, MLB--vs. e-sports over the last 10 years.

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I'd like to know the growth/decline rates in viewership of live sports--NBA, NFL, MLB--vs. e-sports over the last 10 years.

Hello there! Thank you for your question on the growth or decline in viewership rates of live sports versus e-sports. In short, there is a clear decline in viewership of live sports and a rise in popularity for e-sports. Part of the decline live sports is due to the introduction of live streaming, resulting in people canceling their cable subscriptions. However, statistics show that e-sports are directly taking away viewership from live sports. Below you will find a deep dive of my findings.


First, I familiarized myself with the NFL and ESPN websites, as well as reading up on the e-sport industry. To find the statistical information I conducted a comprehensive search through academic databases, corporate websites, and industry reports. In order to provide a full scope of information, I searched trusted media sites, user forums, and review sites for customer insights.


There are other variations affecting the decline in viewership of live sports. Predominantly, the increasing popularity of live-streaming. There is a shift of people cutting the cord and canceling cable services as live-streaming becomes more reliable and high-quality. This is definitely a notable factor when investigating the decline in live sports viewership. Over the last few years, live television broadcast viewing has been steadily declining. For 19-15 year olds in the US, about 56% of the time they watch TV and movies on devices other than TV's. In older viewers ages 26-32, 47% of the time they watch movies on other devices and 46% of the time for TV shows.


Live Sports

In 2016, NFL suffered their first decline in viewership. According to a October 2016 article in The Verge, "For the last 10 years, viewership of NFL games continued to grow and grow— until now. This season, the NFL is seeing double-digit drops in television viewership". There are some allegations that the decline is temporary due to increased interest in American politics, however, this theory is not widely supported. Quantitatively, this drop equates to a 10% decline on Sunday night football, 15% on Thursday night, and 19% on Monday night.

Over a much larger time-frame of 9 years, the decline in basketball viewing can be tracked, as reported in a 2017 article from Sports Media Watch. Over the first season of the NBA's 9-year broadcast agreement, viewing was down for all 3 networks in the deal, with two of them, TNT and ABC, having their all-time lowest viewership in 9 years.

ESPN suffered huge subscriber losses in 2016, peaking at a loss of 621,000 in October and averaging a loss of 300,000 per month over the last 2 years. In their quarterly earnings report released in 2016, ESPN says that between 2011 and 2015, they lost 7 million subscribers.

From its peak in 2005, NASCAR TV viewing has decreased about 45%. "The NFL’s 8% decline in viewers during the 2016 regular season looks like a paper cut by comparison," according to a February 2016 article from Quartz Media. It is apparent whilst the largest live sports providers are holding on, the rest of the industry is suffering tremendous viewer loss.


The growth of e-sports has recently become a big factor with data showing that about 226 million viewers watched e-sports in 2015. Big players in the e-sport industry are identified as League of Legends and Dota 2. League of Legends "sold out more than 10,000 tickets in less than an hour." In addition Dota 2 says that in less than 10 minutes, their International in Seattle was sold out, and they totaled 4.5 millions viewers on their live stream for the event.

A notable e-sport platform is Twitch, much like in live sports users can subscribe to channels for a monthly fee. Twitch predicts that in 10 years, their viewership for some matches will give traditional sports broadcasts a run for their money. Currently, Twitch has been reported to peak at 2 million concurrent viewers.

For the overall e-sports viewing market, a continued increase over the coming years has been speculated by Newzoo, a market research company. They predicted worldwide e-sports viewing would increase from 115 million to 144 million from 2015 to 2016, and speculate further that it could reach 215 million by 2019. Here you will find a useful graph detailing the viewership at finals between live sports and e-sports from 2013 to 2015.

To summarize, across all of the year's e-sports viewership is higher. A general upward trend in e-sport viewership can be concluded. The viewership of live sports fluctuates much more per year, however, remains substantially lower throughout. Newzoo data reported in Technology Review reveals that "76 percent of e-sports fans say that their e-sports viewing is taking away from hours they used to spend on viewing sports."


For your convenience and ease of reading, I have compiled a list of the most important statistics:

• Thirty-seven percent of cable TV viewing is sports programming. On average, about 43% of people keep their cable TV subscription so they can watch live sports.
• TV usage: "19 to 25 year-olds in the U.S. now do 56% of their movie and television viewing on devices."
• NASCAR TV viewing has dropped 45% over the last 10 years.
• NFL viewership has seen an average decline of 14.6% over all night broadcasts.
• ESPN lost 7 million between 2011 and 2015.
• League of Legends (e-sport) viewership: 226 million in 2016.
• Twitch (e-sport) viewership: 2 million concurrent viewers.
• E-sport viewership went from 115 million in 2015 to 144 million in 2016, and may reach 215 million by 2019.
• Live sports to e-sport: "76 percent of e-sports fans say that their e-sports viewing is taking away from hours they used to spend on viewing sports."


To conclude, clear trends have been identified. Despite the limitations, it has been shown that e-sports is directly taking away interest from live sports. Over the past 10 years, there has been a steady decline in live sports viewership, whilst e-sports began it's climb. There are many predictions for the future depicting a continued increase in this trend.

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