In 2014, Forbes reported that 33 million people were playing fantasy football according to Fantasy Sports Trade Association. The following year, the New York Post published an article predicting a massive spike in fantasy football participants and the revenue that it would produce.

In the article simply titled “Nearly 75M people will play fantasy football this year,” by Gregory Bresiger, it was reported that the NFL was preparing for nearly a quarter of the U.S. population to play fantasy football, according to American Express.

In 2015, the article reported, “The company’s latest Spending & Saving Tracker said 74.7 million Americans plan to participate in fantasy football this year, spending $4.6 billion, company spokeswoman Jane Di Leo said.” Coincidentally, in 2016 the NFL, known as America’s game, has reported a noticeable drop in television ratings. How do we know that this ratings drop is real? Not only have multiple reputable news sources reported the matter, but even everyone’s favorite NFL commissioner Roger Goodell took the time to address the ratings drop himself.

“It’s something that I don’t think there’s a single reason for. I really don’t. We look at all those factors,” Goodell said in an article for NFL.com.

An astute observation by commissioner Goodell as this ratings drop that reportedly took place during the first few weeks of the season according to nfl.com, could be due to coincidence, competition on television such as the MLB postseason or a more popular reason for the ratings drop floating around, quality of play. So how is it that fantasy football seems to be increasing in popularity and participation, while the NFL is experiencing difficulty maintaining consistently high ratings that they have been used to?

Although it is commonly believed that fantasy football participation should help increase ratings as it naturally brings attention to the sport, in my opinion, fantasy football could actually be a large contributor to the ratings decrease.  In the age of smartphone applications and social media affecting the attention span of a massive generation of millennial football fans, fantasy sports could be changing the culture among football fans.  This changing culture involves football fans consuming it in a buffet style format fans do not commit to watching NFL games and they only pay attention to the statistics from afar without truly investing in the game from a television viewership perspective.

With every player’s fantasy team instantly accessible through their smartphone or device via fantasy football applications, players can draft players, set lineups, trade players and acquire players on the free agent waiver wire all in the palm of their hands.  In turn, players technically do not need to watch the games to see how their players are doing, as live points and stats are streamed and accessible instantly through fantasy apps.

So what is the result of this concept? If the games are boring, fantasy football players have no reason to sit through them. Players could simply monitor games on their phones while they view a more entertaining option such accessing Netflix and YouTube.  Even when games have been entertaining and caused a spike in NFL television ratings, Forbes reported that the increase from exciting NFL games have dropped back down. In an article titled “Here’s The Real Reasons NFL TV Ratings Will Continue Downward,” by Maury Brown of Forbes, it states that two matchups caused the recent spike.

The article states, “The Cowboys-Steelers game with 28.9 million total viewers was +2% while the Patriots-Seahawks games that saw New England stopped at the goalline in four consecutive attempts to try and push the game into overtime was up +16%. ”The article also states that, “A report by Guggenheim Securities notes that with those two games the exception, ratings continue to fall for the NFL.”

If the increasing popularity in fantasy football is in fact the cause of the NFL ratings drop, the NFL Network should think twice before they decide to continue promoting fantasy football with ‘Start ‘em or Sit ‘em’ TV segments, as it could be the enemy.

Nick Tocco can be contacted at Ntocco@kscequinox.com