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The Quest for Daily Active Users (DAU): How NFL Fans Use Apps

Photo by Adrian Curiel / Unsplash

A look at how the NFL fandom navigates the plethora of mobile apps and what it means for app owners.

In today's digital landscape, media is a complex puzzle. News apps, video platforms, and content creators struggle to keep users' attention and maintain high rates of daily active users (DAU). For users, options seem nearly endless, from traditional outlets like TV and print to newer options like social media and podcasts. In the latest issue of Pulse Labs IQTM, Mobile UX for NFL News, we explore these complexities by diving into NFL fans' experiences with finding news updates and video clips on different mobile apps. For this research, we had users record video of their mobile screens in addition to answering survey questions.

In 2022, the NFL estimated that there were 184 million NFL fans. This is a huge group with the ability to influence media engagement in the digital landscape, especially from September to January. When it comes to the world of sports, to stay in the game, media organizations must understand the types of content fans are looking for and where they prefer to get their sports content. This allows media outlets to tailor their efforts towards the channels that fans frequent, or create content that engages more types of fans, leading to more meaningful connections and a broader fan base. 

In our research, we looked at both written and video content consumption. We asked participants "How frequently do you read news or articles about sports?" and "How frequently do you watch video clips of sports online (not a whole game)?"

A daily diet of NFL news

For dedicated fans, it's not just about Sunday kickoffs; it's about staying connected to the game throughout the week. Based on participant responses, 64% read sports articles every single day, making them prized daily active users. We observed some intriguing distinctions among different fan segments. Gen X leads the pack as the most avid readers at an impressive 77%, closely followed by Super Fans at 72% (in this context, a "Super Fan" watches at least 16 games per season and consumes NFL content from more than 5 sources).

Where do fans go for news?

ESPN, the powerhouse in sports broadcasting, emerges as the primary choice for news articles, drawing 27% of daily readers among NFL fans. Its appeal lies in the extensive coverage it offers across the entire NFL landscape. Fans are drawn to its impartial reporting and the speed at which it delivers updates, particularly during unfolding stories. They also appreciate the ability to customize their feed by selecting their favorite teams, helping them get to the news stories that matter most to them.

“ESPN has the best non-biased articles and opinions!”

A fan explains why ESPN is great for all sports in general, but also NFL in particular.

—Patrick, Millennial, Washington Commanders, Super Fan

Additionally, we're witnessing the rising popularity of curated feeds from platforms like Apple News and Google News, which present users with personalized content aligned with their tastes and preferences. In the football context, this means users can more easily find news around teams, players, and league topics that matter the most to them.

The Video Playbook

When it comes to watching sports video clips online, 48% of our study's participants are watching daily. This trend aligns with the desire for a more immersive sports experience. We found a subtle gender divide in this behavior, with men exhibiting a higher likelihood (52% vs. 35%) of daily video viewership compared to women.

Want to dive deeper into how people are searching for and consuming video clips? Check out the next story, The Video Playbook.

YouTube's dominance

YouTube leads the digital landscape when it comes to video content, attracting 55% of NFL fans. What's the allure of YouTube? It offers a unique blend of insights and opinions that fans appreciate, and users find it to be the most versatile. For the Gen Z cohort, YouTube Shorts have found favor due to their bite-sized, easily digestible format. It's essential to point out that our survey results revealed a shared consensus among all users: videos exceeding 5 minutes struggle to hold their attention. We asked participants, What are your favorite apps to watch video clips of sports online?

"There's a lot of new stuff here. I like YouTube because you can get all kinds of news from highlights, insights, bloopers, all kinds of inside commentary, I really enjoy that. Even The Rock came up. Well, he was a NFL player at one point."

—David, Gen X, Philadelphia Eagles, Super Fan

At 20%, ESPN also emerges as a prominent destination for watching sports videos. Its appeal lies in its curated team coverage videos and the valuable information it provides about injuries and draft picks.

Other staples of the sports digital landscape

Although YouTube, ESPN, and NFL dominate sports video and news content, we see that fans, especially super fans, are often spreading engagement over a variety of apps to connect with others and get tailored content that meets their needs.

The power of social media: Social media platforms have become instrumental in delivering topical and breaking news about NFL teams. Our survey shows that fans rely on platforms like Reddit, Facebook, and X (Twitter) for real-time discussions, reactions, and updates. These platforms are central to the fan experience, fostering connections and sharing the excitement of game days.

Team-centric apps: In addition to mainstream sources, fans are also embracing team-specific apps and news sources. These platforms provide tailored content that caters to the unique needs of devoted fans. For many, it's a way to stay closely connected to the teams they support and follow.


As the digital landscape continues to evolve, one thing is clear: NFL fans are shaping the way we engage with sports online. 

  • Content providers must adapt to the ever-changing demands of these passionate fans to remain relevant in this dynamic digital environment. The journey of fans in the digital realm is almost as intriguing as the games themselves. 
  • For leading news sources like ESPN, NFL, and YouTube, further emphasis on customization and personalization can help them keep existing users, deepen loyalty, and increase daily active users between games and in the off-season.
  • For local news sources, providing unique news stories and perspectives that fans can't get elsewhere can be a distinguishing factor. So can increasing the variety of teams covered and content provided. Some participants expressed concern that local news sources were biased, offering overly rosy coverage of local teams, and so diving in deeper and showing different perspectives could be a competitive advantage.
  • For video content creators, 5 minutes or less seems to be the sweet spot for broad appeal. If you're targeting Gen Z, 30-60 second clips can help you draw in this demographic.
  • App owners should routinely research and test their users' experience. We found that, if users encounter significant issues with a content-related app, 19% will go to a different app or website for the information they are looking for. Especially on game days, super fans and daily active users (DAU) demand a high degree of reliability.

Stay tuned for more insights from Pulse Labs IQ™ as we continue to explore the digital habits, preferences, and usability challenges of the NFL fans in subsequent stories.

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