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Why Sports Matter to Cable Subscribers: One-Third May Cancel If NFL is Postponed

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One negative consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic is the complete shutdown of all live sports. As a result, ratings for sports channels are down across the board.

ESPN, the most expensive channel on cable, hasn’t posted official numbers yet, but there’s no doubt ratings have taken a huge hit. The network is even rushing the release of the much-anticipated Michael Jordan documentary, presumably to pump up numbers.

NBC’s Golf Channel has seen unique viewership fall by 39%, down from 5.23 million the week of March 9th to 3.19 million the following week. To put that into perspective, the same week in 2019 saw a unique viewership of 5.25 million.

Meanwhile, FS1 is getting creative and combating the ratings decline with virtual racing. Sports fans are so starved for live content, that the initial iRacing broadcast scored record eSports ratings.

It’s no wonder that President Trump is hoping that live sports can resume by the end of the summer.

And with cable subscribers already leaving at unprecedented rates as cord cutting grows in popularity, we here at HotDog.com are wondering if the current pandemic will be the final nail in the coffin for Big Cable.

After all, we know that live sports is the major driver behind people subscribing to cable. We also know cord cutters care most about content and cost — and most other content can be found much cheaper through on-demand services like Netflix and Hulu.

But when it comes to sports, viewers want to watch as the events happen.

Will the Pandemic Hurt Cable?

However, it’s safe to say, the real damage likely won’t be felt until NFL season rolls around. Sure the NFL Draft is coming up, but we know that NFL games dominate all other sporting events in terms of viewership.

In fact, in 2018, 80% of the top-viewed sporting events were NFL games. So what happens if the NFL season gets postponed?

With that in mind, we partnered with Mindnet Analytics to survey current cable subscribers to find out how they feel about the current absence of live sports, and how they’ll react should the current ban remain in place into the fall, forcing the NFL season to be postponed.

After surveying current subscribers, we found that 33% of cable subscribers say they may be likely to cancel their cable contracts if the 2019-2020 NFL season is postponed. Below, you’ll find more detailed information on the survey findings.

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The Findings

66% of cable subscribers say live sports is a significant reason for their subscribing.
33% of respondents described live sports as a “very significant” reason for subscribing to cable. 

Are live sports a significant reason to subscribe to cable?

44% of cable subscribers say the current lack of live sports could impact whether they keep their cable subscription.
14% of respondents said lack of live sports could have a “big impact” on whether they keep cable.

Does the lack of live sports right now have an impact on whether you keep your cable subscription?

33% of cable subscribers could cancel cable is the 2019-2020 NFL season is postponed.
15% of respondents said they are very likely to cancel if NFL gets postponed.

How likely are you to cancel cable if the NFL season is postponed?

The longer sporting events are canceled, the more likely subscribers will cancel their cable.
10% of people said they were very likely to cancel cable if no major live sports events are televised by May 1st, but nearly 13% said they were very likely to cancel if that extends to June 1st.

How likely are you to cancel cable if there are no major live sports being televised by May 1st?


HotDog.com partnered with Mindnet Analytics to survey 1,003 current cable TV subscribers via Amazon Mechanical Turk. Our goal was to understand how the suspension of live sporting events due to the current pandemic is affecting subscribers views towards their cable subscriptions.

We asked a range of questions focusing on how important live sports are to current cable subscribers, including reason for initially subscribing, short-term importance, and the role of the upcoming NFL season.

Only US participants took the survey, and only those with past approval ratings of 95% or higher to ensure high data quality. The fastest 5% of the sample were removed before analysis to ensure data quality (as they may have sped through without paying attention) resulting in a final sample size of N=1,003.

Participants were compensated at a rate at least equivalent to $15/hour. As for confidence level, there is a 3% margin of error.

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Frank Moraes
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By Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is Content Editor at HotDog where he oversees the creation and maintenance of articles. His focus is on sports and the regional programming issues that flummox streamers.

He has led the efforts to create pages that fully address problems fans have watching out-of-market NFL games. And he is responsible for the site's thorough coverage of the regional sports networks that are essential for fans of MLB, NBA, and NHL.

Frank got his PhD in Atmospheric Physics from Oregon Institute of Technology back in 1995. After that, he spent much of that time developing remote sensing technology including streaming video back in the days when most people were using VHS tapes.

Since that time, Frank has become a veteran tech writer who specializes in the nexus of entertainment and technology. It was natural that he gravitated toward the streaming industry. He started streaming early, back in 2007 when Netflix introduced "instant watch." Then Hulu started and he was hooked.

Outside his work life, Frank is a longtime cord-cutter. He streams pretty much everything while his library of thousands of Blu-rays and DVDs collects dust.

Frank currently subscribes to the following streaming services:

* Amazon Prime Video
* AMC+
* Curiosity Stream / Nebula
* Hulu / Disney+ / ESPN+
* Max
* Netflix
* NFL+ Premium
* Paramount+ / Showtime
* Peacock

He streams mostly on a Roku-powered TCL TV and a VIZIO with an Amazon 4K Fire TV stick.

Frank also writes about horror and other cult films at Psychotronic Review

Contact Frank with thoughts, questions, and story ideas at [email protected].

Frank's Work on HotDog.com:

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