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After peaking in 2007, NFL attendance steadily has declined

Atlanta Falcons v Carolina Panthers

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 28:Stadium overall at the Carolina Panthers against the Atlanta Falcons game on September 28, 2008 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Panthers defeated the Falcons 24-9. (Photo by David Drapkin/Getty Images)

David Drapkin

The recent focus on reducing blackouts has obscured a more important stat when it comes to keep NFL balance sheets deep in the black.

Despite unprecedented growth of TV audiences, attendance at NFL games reached an all-time high in 2007. It has consistently dropped ever since.

In 2011, the NFL posted the lowest total attendance since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002 with the addition of the Houston Texans. That year, 16,883,310 paying customers attended the 256 regular-season games. The number climbed over the next five years, maxing out at 17,345,205 in 2007.

Since then, the numbers has dropped each year. In 2011, the total paid attendance of 16,562,706 was lower than the prior year’s 16,569,514, even though the 2010 figure excluded the Giants-Vikings game that was moved to Ford Field after the roof of the Metrodome collapsed.

It translates to an average paid crowd of 64,698. That’s the lowest per-game number since 1998, when 64,020 tickets were bought per game for 240 total regular-season contests.

Repeated shrinkage over the last half decade underscores the challenge the NFL is facing. At a time when everything else regarding the sport is growing, the league has seen its paying customers steadily drop by more than 4.5 percent since 2007.

And so, on the subject of the various changes being made to make the in-stadium experience as good or better than staying home, the NFL isn’t being proactive. The NFL instead is reacting to a troubling downward trend.