Crowning Champions: Do NFL Fans Think the 2020-21 NFL Season is Valid?
13% of NFL Fans Think Super Bowl 55 is Invalid
This NFL season has been unlike anything ever seen before. Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, individual teams and the league as a whole have had to overcome various roadblocks in order to operate a season with as little conflict as possible.
Here’s what the head office came up with: First, unlike the NBA and NHL, they decided not to create a bubble — instead, the ‘Reserve/COVID-19 List’ was introduced for players who contracted the virus or came into contact with someone who had tested positive for it. The detailed protocol was put into place in order to maintain the safety of the affected players and their teams. Other modifications included limited or no fan attendance, scheduling changes, and COVID-related player opt-outs.
This season’s landscape has led some fans to believe that whoever wins the Super Bowl isn’t truly deserving of it and it should therefore be rendered invalid.
We’ll take a closer look at the primary reasons for the logic behind this as well as how NFL fans feel about it on a team-by-team basis.
Pandemic Impact: Questioning Validity
According to 1,257 NFL fans, 87% believed that winning this year’s NFL championship is just as legitimate as any other.
Clearly, the majority of supporters agreed that the coronavirus should hold no weight in determining if the winning team is deserving or not. Like any season, variables come into play whether it be injuries, personal leaves of absence or any number of external factors contributing to that particular season’s narrative — and COVID-19 falls into the same category.
While the majority of fans seemed to be on the same page, there were differences between teams that led to some fan bases being more skeptical than others.
For example, a quarter of Broncos fans, whose team struggled mightily this season, believed the Big Game would not be legit. At one point in the season, all four of their rostered quarterbacks were unavailable to play due to COVID-19 protocols.
In comparison, just 5.1% of Buccaneers fans agreed with that sentiment. Tampa Bay is one game away from winning it all — naturally, the overwhelming majority of their fans believed the game to be no different than any other.
The biggest reason why NFL fans are invalidating the Big Game is because of players contracting COVID-19.
To be fair, many teams had been thrust into unfavorable positions, like the aforementioned Denver Broncos. Even if a team didn’t have infected players, they sometimes still suffered the consequences. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers had some of their games rescheduled and their bye week moved to accommodate opponents who had COVID-19 outbreaks, which may have ultimately put them in a less favorable position to prepare. The same argument can be made for coaches who’d contracted the disease – last-minute coaching changes can drastically change a team’s game plan and morale.
Another reason some fans invalidated the season was due to limited (or no) fan attendance. This negated the idea of home-field advantage, which is an important phenomenon in professional football. Statistically, over a large sample size, it was determined that home teams win about 55% to 60% of the time by a score just below three points, on average.
Further, disgruntled NFL fans were unhappy with players opting out of the season, in addition to the usual onslaught of injuries and BLM-related incidents.
It Is What It Is
As the Chiefs-Buccaneers battle draws near, we can reflect on what has transpired over the past seventeen weeks. A season like no other, the NFL’s fight against the pandemic introduced twists and turns that complicated the natural flow of the game and how teams were able to conduct themselves. While the majority of fans labeled this season as valid as any other, there were some who asterisked the legitimacy of it.
All teams operated under the same protocol, but some were just unluckier than others. Independent of the validity debate, all NFL fans were happy that they were able to enjoy watching football this year in some capacity. Many were glued to their television and tablet, passionately cheering on their teams as usual. In preparation for the Big Game and looking beyond into the 2021 season, fans are eager for what’s to come.
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Methodology and Limitations
Using a bespoke polling tool, we collected responses from 1,257 NFL fans on their opinions of the 2020-21 season. Of the 1,257 fans surveyed, 38.3% were female, 61.4% were male, and less than 1% identified as nonbinary. Additionally, respondents ranged in age from 18 to 78 with an average of 38. All respondents included in the analysis passed an attention-check question.
The main limitation of this study is the reliance on self-report, which is faced with several issues such as, but not limited to, the following: attribution, exaggeration, recency bias, and telescoping. Data are solely representative of self-reported claims by fans, and no association to teams, venues, or cities should be inferred. This survey ran during January 2021.
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Photo: Getty Images