Early September, traditionally the slowest time of the year for movies, coincides with the start of the NFL season, America’s dominant televised sport — and TV program in general. But don’t blame the NFL for the sluggish box office at the beginning of fall.
September is a light month on the movie calendar because studios are cramming their mega-budget blockbusters into theaters before summer vacation ends and holding prestige titles for the awards-friendly holiday season, not because they’re scared of a little football.
And while major sporting events have a material impact on the box office in other places, including England during the last World Cup, that doesn’t hold true in the U.S. The NFL may dominate adult male viewing, but the economic power of non-football fans — and the advent of technology — means it’s hardly a dead zone at the multiplex when the pro football season kicks off.
Here are the three main reasons why the NFL is not the box office destroyer one might think:
The millions of Americans who aren’t football fans have a lot more time to fill on Sundays
The NFL is responsible for 18 of the 20 most-watched TV shows in American history. The Super Bowl commands by far the highest ad rates of any annual program. But there are plenty of people for whom fall Sundays have nothing to do with watching football, and the box office is primed to capitalize on them — especially when their football aficionado friends and family members are otherwise occupied.
Glen Rothstein, a partner at Greenberg Glusker who specializes in entertainment, said the establishment of Sunday as sort of a secular football holiday doesn’t crimp the box office because it opens that day up for those who non-followers who are looking for anything else to do.
“This allows other non-football fan spouses and partners to get together separately with friends and family and engage in other activities, including going to the movies on a Sunday afternoon,” Rothstein told TheWrap. “The box office does not substantially suffer.”
The only real overlap is Sunday afternoons, and technology has mitigated that conflict
The weekend makes up the overwhelming majority of box office revenue, and a lot of that is concentrated on Friday nights and Saturdays, when NFL football is rarely on. College football is popular and airs on those nights, but it has nowhere near the viewership of the NFL — and doesn’t seem to interfere with social events.
For example, last year’s college football playoff semifinals — held on New Year’s Eve — saw its ratings fall by nearly 30 percent from corresponding games last year when people opted to party on New Year’s Eve instead of watching Clemson top Oklahoma and Alabama demolish Michigan State.
And even on Sunday afternoons when the NFL competes directly with matinee showings, technology can help people who love football and their families have it both ways.
“With the ability to record and stream games of one’s choice, families can spend a Sunday afternoon at the mall, have lunch and go to the movies — and then enjoy watching their favorite team play at their leisure in the comfort of their home,” Rothstein said.
Sunday and Monday aren’t hugely popular movie nights
Sunday is the NFL’s day, but its marquee events are arguably “Sunday Night” and “Monday Night Football,” when one game is broadcast to the entire nation in prime time. Sunday night’s game starts after 8 p.m. ET — not a popular moviegoing hour — and Monday night is, well, Monday night.
Rothstein said the social aspect of “Monday Night Football” occupies an otherwise empty spot of the entertainment calendar — and has no effect at all on keeping people away from the theaters later that week. After all, “Monday Night Football” doesn’t cost any extra.
“‘Monday Night Football’ has become a national event where men and women, friends and co-workers, devoted fans and non-sports fans alike, get together to enjoy football as well as the ‘event’ and start the week on a high note,” Rothstein said. “It is doubtful this demographic would be spending Monday night at the movies in any great numbers.”