Which Sport Has the Richest Fans? The Answer Will Surprise You

The snooty denizens of the fanciest country clubs might be shocked to learn which sport has the wealthiest fans.

Feb 12, 2014 at 10:01AM

Put down your scone and secure your monocle (lest it fall into your caviar) since it will shock you to find out what sport has the wealthiest audience in the United States.

While the posh country clubs and endless ads for luxury cars during broadcasts might lead you to assume that the Professional Golfers Association would have the richest fans, golf, falls behind a much less genteel sport when it comes to the wealth of its audience. And though the PGA has the oldest audience in general as well as the highest share of fans 55 and older, according to Nielsen's 2013 Year in Sports Media Report, it's the National Hockey League's audience that's the richest.

That might seem hard to believe of a sport famous for fights, goons, and holding onto the mullet as a viable hairstyle, but one third of all NHL viewers make more than $100,000 a year, compared to about 19% of the general population, making them the richest sports audience.

And while the numbers are small compared to what other sports get in rights fees, the NHL has leveraged its wealthy fan base to a surprisingly lucrative TV deal on a per-viewer basis.

Audience size matters too

Hockey, which has a  U.S. TV deal with Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSK) NBC Sports Network, has a tiny audience compared with pretty much any other sport. According to Nielsen, NFL games -- which air on NBC, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN, Fox (NASDAQ:FOX), DirectTV (NASDAQ:DTV), and The NFL Network -- average 17.4 million fans a game. NHL games, on the not-so-easy-to-find NBCSN, average half a million viewers.

The NHL, which not that many years ago wasn't being paid anything for national rights to its games (there was a revenue split) now has a U.S. TV deal worth around $200 million a year, which runs through 2021. The league does better in Canada, where it has a 12-year, $5.2 billion deal with Rogers Sportsnet (roughly $430 million a year). In the U.S., however, which is the market Nielsen examined in the report cited above, NBC is paying roughly $400 per hockey fan (though that cost is mitigated by the playoff audience, which rises to an average of 5.8 million during the Stanley Cup Finals.

Still, that's a very high rate per fan -- perhaps justified by their wealth -- compared to what the NFL takes in from its various TV partners. According to the Los Angeles Times, the NFL, as of 2014 will take in an average of $3.1 billion a year in television rights fees. With the league, according to Nielsen, averaging 17.4 million fans per televised game, that equates to rights-holders paying roughly $172 per football fan. Add in the Super Bowl, which this year drew 111.5 million fans, according to Nielsen, and the value per fan is much higher.

So, while hockey fans might be richer and NFL fans are certainly plentiful, TV networks are, in a sense, getting a deal on football rights.

TV needs sports

Sports is not only big business for the teams and leagues, it's huge business for the television industry. Sports, according to Nielsen's report, accounts for 1% of all television programming, but 7% of the total cost of pay-TV. ESPN leads the pack in this area, charging cable companies more than $5 per subscriber (deals vary by cable system), according to Forbes.

"ESPN charges a high fee per subscriber by tapping the demand for sports programming in the U.S," the Forbes article said. This demand is evident from the fact that other sports networks such as Fox Sports are also able to charge substantially higher fees per subscriber as compared to the regular cable networks such as Nickelodeon, MTV, TNT, TBS, and The Disney Channel.

Live sports is also one of the draws keeping cable customers from dropping their subscriptions and switching to a service like Netflix (NASDAQ: NFLX).

Can it end?

While the value of sports rights has gone up because live sports are generally considered the one thing that is DVR-proof, the average cable customer (whether you watch or not) can be sure that the networks will not be bearing these costs alone.

Sports fees paid by cable, satellite, and telco TV companies are on pace to increase 12% in 2013, to $17.2 billion, according to research firm SNL Kagan as reported by Variety.

These increases will ultimately lead non-sports fans forced to pay for programming they don't watch to drop their cable subscriptions. That will then force cable companies to spread the cost of live sports over even fewer customers, forcing some of them to leave, which might ultimately halt the cycle.

"When you see upstream rights deals increase by multiples, that's a formula that is unworkable for consumers," DirecTV Chief Content Officer Dan York told Variety. "At the end of the day, the money that ends up in the pockets of the athletes, (team) owners, and networks — it comes out of the pockets of the fans and nonfans."

Profiting on their profits

Want to figure out how to profit on business analysis like this? The key is to learn how to turn business insights into portfolio gold by taking your first steps as an investor. Those who wait on the sidelines are missing out on huge gains and putting their financial futures in jeopardy. In our brand-new special report, "Your Essential Guide to Start Investing Today," The Motley Fool's personal finance experts show you what you need to get started, and even give you access to some stocks to buy first. Click here to get your copy today -- it's absolutely free.

Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends DirecTV, Netflix, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix and Walt Disney. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

1 Key Step to Get Rich

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better. Whether that’s helping people overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we can help.

Feb 1, 2016 at 4:54PM

To be perfectly clear, this is not a get-rich action that my Foolish colleagues and I came up with. But we wouldn't argue with the approach.

A 2015 Business Insider article titled, "11 websites to bookmark if you want to get rich" rated The Motley Fool as the #1 place online to get smarter about investing.

"The Motley Fool aims to build a strong investment community, which it does by providing a variety of resources: the website, books, a newspaper column, a radio [show], and [newsletters]," wrote (the clearly insightful and talented) money reporter Kathleen Elkins. "This site has something for every type of investor, from basic lessons for beginners to investing commentary on mutual funds, stock sectors, and value for the more advanced."

Our mission at The Motley Fool is to help the world invest better, so it's nice to receive that kind of recognition. It lets us know we're doing our job.

Whether that's helping the entirely uninitiated overcome their fear of stocks all the way to offering clear and successful guidance on complicated-sounding options trades, we want to provide our readers with a boost to the next step on their journey to financial independence.

Articles and beyond

As Business Insider wrote, there are a number of resources available from the Fool for investors of all levels and styles.

In addition to the dozens of free articles we publish every day on our website, I want to highlight two must-see spots in your tour of fool.com.

For the beginning investor

Investing can seem like a Big Deal to those who have yet to buy their first stock. Many investment professionals try to infuse the conversation with jargon in order to deter individual investors from tackling it on their own (and to justify their often sky-high fees).

But the individual investor can beat the market. The real secret to investing is that it doesn't take tons of money, endless hours, or super-secret formulas that only experts possess.

That's why we created a best-selling guide that walks investors-to-be through everything they need to know to get started. And because we're so dedicated to our mission, we've made that available for free.

If you're just starting out (or want to help out someone who is), go to www.fool.com/beginners, drop in your email address, and you'll be able to instantly access the quick-read guide ... for free.

For the listener

Whether it's on the stationary exercise bike or during my daily commute, I spend a lot of time going nowhere. But I've found a way to make that time benefit me.

The Motley Fool offers five podcasts that I refer to as "binge-worthy financial information."

Motley Fool Money features a team of our analysts discussing the week's top business and investing stories, interviews, and an inside look at the stocks on our radar. It's also featured on several dozen radio stations across the country.

The hosts of Motley Fool Answers challenge the conventional wisdom on life's biggest financial issues to reveal what you really need to know to make smart money moves.

David Gardner, co-founder of The Motley Fool, is among the most respected and trusted sources on investing. And he's the host of Rule Breaker Investing, in which he shares his insights into today's most innovative and disruptive companies ... and how to profit from them.

Market Foolery is our daily look at stocks in the news, as well as the top business and investing stories.

And Industry Focus offers a deeper dive into a specific industry and the stories making headlines. Healthcare, technology, energy, consumer goods, and other industries take turns in the spotlight.

They're all informative, entertaining, and eminently listenable ... and I don't say that simply because the hosts all sit within a Nerf-gun shot of my desk. Rule Breaker Investing and Answers contain timeless advice, so you might want to go back to the beginning with those. The other three take their cues from the market, so you'll want to listen to the most recent first. All are available at www.fool.com/podcasts.

But wait, there's more

The book and the podcasts – both free ... both awesome – also come with an ongoing benefit. If you download the book, or if you enter your email address in the magical box at the podcasts page, you'll get ongoing market coverage sent straight to your inbox.

Investor Insights is valuable and enjoyable coverage of everything from macroeconomic events to investing strategies to our analyst's travels around the world to find the next big thing. Also free.

Get the book. Listen to a podcast. Sign up for Investor Insights. I'm not saying that any of those things will make you rich ... but Business Insider seems to think so.


Compare Brokers