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Millennials’ Passion for Football Is Driving Them Into Credit Card Debt

Millennials’ Passion for Football Is Driving Them Into Credit Card Debt

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This article was last updated Aug 30, 2019. Terms and conditions may have changed. For the most accurate information, please consult the issuer website.

If you’re a millennial who has a credit card and likes football, there’s a good chance your fandom has put you into debt. That’s according to a new report from CompareCards by LendingTree, which shows that Americans’ love for their favorite sport comes with a hefty price.

With the new football season rapidly approaching, CompareCards asked credit card-carrying fans about their spending habits when it comes to football. We included fans of the National Football League, college football, high school football and more in our polling, and found that a disturbing amount of Americans are going into debt for the sport they love. 

Millennials are the primary culprits, with 41% saying they spend “way more money than they can afford” on their fandom and a similar number saying it has driven them to debt. 

But it’s not just millennials. Men, women, Republicans, Democrats and people of all ages have had their passion for football carry them into debt the way a running back carries a ball as he smashes into an onrushing linebacker. Either way, people can end up getting really hurt. 

Key findings:

  • 72% of credit cardholders follow some level of football, with the National Football League the most popular (62% vs. 36% for college and 14% for high school)
  • 72% of football fans with a credit card will spend money on at least 1 football-related expense this season. 
    • About 1 in 10 expect to spend at least $1,000 on football-related expenses this season, and another 15% will spend between $500-$999.
    • The most common football-related expenses: Single-game tickets (32%), merchandise (29%) and food and drink for game-watch parties (23%). Just 8% of those surveyed said they would spend money on sports gambling this season.
  • 41% of millennials who follow the sport and have a credit card say they have spent “way more than they can afford” on their football fandom – and a similar number have gone into debt over it. Overall, about 3 in 10 cardholding fans said they overspent and went into debt over football.
  • Those who make either less than $35,000 or more than $75,000 in household income are the most likely to say they overspend on football. About one-third of those groups overspend, while just a quarter of those making between $35,000 and $75,000 said the same.
  • About 1 in 5 female football fans with a credit card say they have gone into debt over football, but that’s about half the number of men who said the same.
  • 1 in 5 say their football fan spending has damaged a relationship with a family member. Of those, the most commonly damaged relationships were with a spouse (57%), sibling (32%) or adult child (17%).  

A pricey passion

Once you get beyond the basics of keeping a roof over your head, keeping the lights on and your family fed, your spending says a lot about your priorities. However, millions of Americans have one passion they just love to spend on. For many, it is travel; for others, cars, concert tickets or shoes. Football fills that role for millions of Americans, but that pleasure often comes with the pain of debt.

Perhaps surprisingly, your tendency to overspend doesn’t seem to correlate to your income. Yes, those with household incomes of $35,000 or less were among the most likely to go into debt because of their fandom. However, those making $75,000 a year or more were equally as likely to go into debt as those at the other end of the spectrum. But overspending is an entirely different ballgame when you make $100,000 a year than when you make $35,000. 

At higher income levels, if you take a family of four to an NFL game where each ticket may cost hundreds of dollars, parking $40 and food $100 before you even buy your first beer, it can be a stretch financially. You may end up having to carry a balance on your credit card for an extra month or two to pay for it. Ultimately, however, that extra interest you pay probably won’t impact your family’s finances much at all. 

That’s certainly not the case if you’re making $35,000 a year. For those families, an outing to a single NFL game can devastate a budget, keeping them in debt for months. Because of that, attending NFL games – and many professional and college sporting events of all kinds – is simply a pipe dream for a huge portion of Americans who love their favorite teams with a passion.

Fortunately, there are other ways to be a fan. 

The bottom line: Follow your passion, but don’t wreck your finances in the process.

Ultimately, it comes down to this: Spending more money on your favorite team doesn’t make you a better fan, but It can make you broke. Don’t let that happen to you. 

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your fan costs down

  • Consider a payment plan: Many pro and college teams offer payment plans for season tickets and other packages. These plans are typically interest-free. Spreading that cost over several payments can be a lifesaver.
  • Save, save, save: The more time you have to stash some money away to pay for those tickets, the less burdensome they’ll be to your budget when you actually have to pay. A little foresight and discipline can make a big difference.
  • Dial things back a bit: Opt for seats on the upper deck rather than in the lower bowl. Drive instead of fly. Consider the budget hotel in the suburbs rather than the one right next to the stadium. Buy the replica jersey instead of the official one. Reducing costs elsewhere can help make those tickets squeeze into your budget.
  • Leverage credit card rewards and sign-up bonuses: Credit card points and miles can make a huge difference if you have enough for free airfares or hotel nights. Also, many cards offer $100 to $150 sign-up bonuses when you spend a minimum amount (often $500 or $1,000) with your new card. If you’re already planning to spend that much on your fandom, do it with that new credit card, then let the sign-up bonus help you stretch your budget that much more. 
  • Invest in technology: Instead of spending all that money on the event, use it to make your at-home watching experience better. Buy a better TV. Buy your favorite league’s TV package so you make sure to catch all the games. Upgrade your internet connection so your streaming service works better. This approach may not save you much money, but it will pay dividends for much longer. 
  • Throw a party at home. Sure, it may not match the feeling of being there, but a big get-together with friends can create memories as well. Plus, parking is easier, the beer is cheaper and the company can be pretty great, too.


CompareCards by LendingTree commissioned Qualtrics to conduct an online survey of 529 American credit cardholders who are football fans. The survey was fielded August 1-5, 2019, and the margin for error for all respondents is +/- 4.3%.

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