Since 1992, football watchers have now become a better reflection of society.

25 years on from the establishment of the Premier League and Sky Sports’ live coverage, we’ve seen huge changes to the game at the elite level in particular, driven by revenues flowing in from TV rights.  The sport’s authorities will be happy that interest in the game has grown over this time, and both TV viewers and match-goers have become more representative of the population at large.  More women are following the sport, and older adults are more engaged.  But in parallel with this modernisation some things seem to have disappeared – does anyone still do the football pools?

Numbers watching on TV

The TGI research survey for 2017 reports 19.4 million adults (defined as aged 15 and over) as saying they watch football on TV, up from 14.6 million in 1992.  That may not be a surprise given the volume of football broadcast, but 60% of this growth has comes from women, the number of whom expressing their interest has almost doubled to 6.6 million.  While that doesn’t make for an even gender split, the female audience is now a third of the total rather than a quarter.

Armchair viewing profiles

The ageing of the population is also seen in the TV football audience: over 45s now represent 55% of viewers, up from 46% in 1992.   But the converse is the decline in viewing by 15-24 year-olds.  They’re now only 12% of viewers, compared to 19% back in 1992.  A combination of factors that didn’t exist back then is probably at play here: social media didn’t exist, and gaming was in its infancy.  Some are substituting the virtual for the real thing: 15-24s are the biggest players of ‘FIFA’.

Attendance at matches

Similar demographic shifts have occurred among those going to games: there are more women, more over 45s and fewer 15-24s.  In all, 5.8 million say they have paid to watch a football match during the last 12 months – slightly up from 5.6 million in 1992.  All this increase has come from more women attending: back then, 900,000 reported doing so and now it’s 1.1 million.  That’s still a small proportion – not even 20% of the total – but it is at least a move in a healthy direction.

15-24s are still most likely to have the attendance habit, but from being 30% of match-goers 25 years ago they are now only 19%.  The big growth has been among over 45s, who now make up 44% of paying customers, compared to 28% in 1992.  They may be better able to afford admission prices than younger fans, and probably find stadiums more welcoming nowadays.  Of course, many of today’s over 45s were in their twenties or thirties in 1992 and may have stuck with the game over the years.

Social grade profile

Within football grounds, more adults from the AB social grades than DEs are found now.  Some of this change is due to the direction in which the overall population has moved.  ABs now make up 27% of the population and 32% of match-goers; in 1992 they were 18% of both.  For them, just as for the over 45s, greater affluence and a better match experience is a winning combination.

Football flutters

The football pools are a much smaller part of the football world than they once were.  In the late 1960s, TGI reported 19 million people as ‘doing the pools’: that was 47% of the adult population.  This had fallen to 13 million or 28% by 1992, and now stands at just 1.6 million or 3%.  The National Lottery has largely replaced it as a weekly flutter of course, and almost 6 million now bet specifically on football.  Watford’s half-back from the 1930s, Arthur Woodward, benefitted from a pools’ win in later life and was able to live comfortably from the proceeds.  Such stories are now associated with the EuroMillions.


All in all, the increased interest levels among women and the greater engagement of older adults are positive indicators for football as a sport.  Conversely lower social groups have been drifting away, and the football authorities might do well to think about ways of maintaining the interest of younger adults.


Research is vital for businesses taking decisions that have long-term implications.  Longitudinal analysis of data such as TGI, including the historical data held within the Archive for Market and Social Research (AMSR), can allow decision-makers to track and assess the impact of their actions.