America's response to the eternal question "Are you ready for some football?" appears to be getting less enthusiastic by the day, and that could be big trouble for the NFL's dominance of the US sports-scape. According to a poll conducted by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, only 51% of men between 18 and 49 say they follow the NFL closely; that's down from a whopping 75% in 2014. Pollster Micah Roberts says that group is "absolutely the last group you would want to retreat" were you the NFL. “If I’m the NFL I’m freaking out about that a little bit,” Roberts says. “They are the very core of the football-viewing audience. If they’re retreating, then who’s left?” Across all adults, the number who say they follow the NFL closely declined 9% since 2014.
This past NFL season saw injuries to star players, a public fight between owners, and declining TV ratings. But Roberts says the "kneeling stuff" has been the big impact on the league's popularity. While numbers among women, black people, and Latinos held steady, the number of white men who follow the NFL closely dropped 22% over the past four years; it was 23% for men without college degrees. And there's another problem: The number of people who say they would steer their kids away from football for concussion-related reasons has risen from 40% to 48% since 2014. “When participation erodes, the likelihood of a kid becoming a big fan ... lessens," says the chairman of NBC Sports. Still, as Yahoo Sports reports, the NFL remains the most popular thing on TV and just signed a $3 billion deal with Fox for Thursday Night Football. (Read more NFL stories.)