BY ADRIAN JARDING | Ball State Sports Link
Everyone has a bias.
You have a bias, I have a bias and your mailman has a bias. My favorite film, company and broadcaster are the Empire Strikes Back, Under Armour and Pat Summerall.
Growing up in my house you watched NASCAR, the PGA and the NFL (MLB factored in the middle school days). College sports, the NBA and NHL were nonexistent as far as I was concerned. This was fine with me because I watched cartoons after school during the week and did homework on Saturdays to get a full dose of sports on Sunday every year.
And boy did I watch sports. In the spring and summer, I would drag my little diecast cars around my carpet and indented it so much it looked like a track. During the fall and winter, I would sit with a little notebook and studiously keep track of stats.
When kids at school talked about Reggie Miller, I asked if they were referring to a band. I didn’t know college basketball had a tournament until I was eight years old when my extended family filled out brackets for fun (nobody knew anything about the schools). I just didn’t grow up around basketball and therefore didn’t care, plus I found it boring when I did try to watch.
Because of this, I am biased when I say the NFL is the best organization in sports. It’s what I believe, if you don’t agree then that’s fine. I’ll just prove why my love for it is justified.
My first introduction to football was when I lived in Tampa Bay. It was 2001 and I was four. My grandmother took my two-year old brother and I to a local Kohl’s, where we were allowed to pick out a jersey we wanted. Neither of us had any clue who the players were, but we wanted to match so we got Brad Johnson jerseys.
The Buccaneers had a decent season finishing 9-7, but they lost in the Wild Card to the Eagles. Head coach Tony Dungy was fired and they brought Jon Gruden in.
In 2002, we moved to Illinois and the Bucs won the Super Bowl. Even though they won, I still never considered them “my team.” I wanted to choose my own team — on my own will — because I was a headstrong kid who loved to rebel (I still do).
In 2004, we moved to Indiana. Just for some context, NASCAR was my favorite sport for most of my childhood. I was a crazy Ryan Newman fan and I could rattle off every statistic known to mankind about the sport. The NFL was a distant second until I moved to Indy.
I will always remember how I became a Colts fan, because looking back, it was really silly. I got a call from my grandma (I guess she was a big influence on me) and she asked since I was in Indiana if I would become a Colts fan. I asked why I should and she responded saying Tony Dungy was their current head coach and he was previously fired from Tampa.
I was a naive, sheltered kid so the concept of someone being fired at seven years old was pretty hard for me to fathom. I felt bad and immediately became obsessed with the Colts. Dungy was my idol, not Peyton Manning.
Although there were a lot of rough years getting beat down by the Patriots time and time again, the NFL quickly became my biggest love. Instead of just watching the Colts, I would stick around and watch the late games as well and Sunday Night Football. It was incredible to see how each team played differently.
Throughout the recent years the NFL has been ostracized in the public, specifically for concussions and the mishandling of many controversial cases. A spotlight has been shed on the violence of the game and many parents are now starting to put their kids in other sports because of the health risks. Despite this, the NFL is still raking in a lot of money.
There is a lot of talk about the future of the league, which I’m not too concerned about because of the amount of money colleges and high schools are still throwing at it. As long as there is money, there is a market.
Because of this though, many are saying that the NFL is in fact not the greatest league/organization. Anything that is great has problems and flaws. After all, the force didn’t tell Luke to not kiss Leia in Empire. Pat Summerall did almost blow his broadcasting career with Tom Brookshire.
Looking squarely at television numbers in the regular season, no other sport can even compare. Yes, the ratings were indeed down this year, but it’s not like the gap narrowed significantly.
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, “a typical game was watched by 1.4 million fewer people than last season (16.5 million versus 17.9 million).” That’s an eight percent decrease from 2015. League commissioner Roger Goodell also pointed out that the ratings were affected heavily by the election, as their numbers only dropped one percent from 2015 once it was over.
How are the MLB and NBA doing?
Well the NBA took a dip, averaging 1.19 million viewers. The MLB in 2016 averaged 2.5 million. Add that up and you get (with a Billy Beane snap) 3.69 million. Divide that by 16.5 and you figure that the NFL is getting almost 4.5 times more viewers in the regular season than both leagues, combined.
Now you say, hold on, the only thing that matters in the NBA and MLB is the postseason. Alright, let’s compare the 2016 World Series game seven, 2016 NBA Finals game seven and Super Bowl 50’s ratings because the NFL only has one game.
Game seven of the NBA Finals garnered 31.02 million viewers. Game seven of the World Series had 40 million viewers, the highest a baseball game has had in over 25 years. Super Bowl 50 drew the third largest audience ever with 111.9 million viewers. When you combine the Finals and World Series they are still 40.88 million viewers off of the Super Bowl.
When it comes to judging game attendance, this becomes a little bit harder because NFL stadiums have larger capacities than each league. Even the smallest stadium played in by the Oakland Raiders houses more than Yankee Stadium which is the largest capacity stadium in the MLB. NBA stadiums aren’t even close. I also don’t want to hear about playing basketball games at these stadiums. If NFL stadiums could fit more fans then there would be more people attending.
It’s also hard to compare things like the total viewers of March Madness to the Super Bowl because one takes course over a few weeks, while one is a single day event. You would have to compare it to the overall playoffs in that case.
If you would like to know, I totaled the average day of viewing times eight (total number of days in the tournament minus the Final Four), plus two for each of the semifinals and the championship of this year’s NCAA Tournament and got an estimate of 135.6 million total viewers.
If you take the NFL conference championship ratings alone for this year, they combined for 87.5 million viewers. That’s two games in one day compared to 10 days of coverage.
So what does this all have to do with me saying that the NFL is the greatest league/organization?
It just solidifies that more people care about professional football than other sports. The NFL is still top-dog when it comes to marketing and fandom in American sports. The NBA and MLB might have the overseas markets cornered, but last time I checked the only other country that has teams in those leagues is Canada.
Plus, when you’re making a case for the best organization in America, it’s a stretch to say that these other markets matter when their headquarters are in America and they cater primarily to Americans.
What makes the NFL different from the NBA and MLB is that the league is what matters. In the NBA, all you hear about is the players. Lebron versus Steph, Bird versus Magic, Jordan versus everyone. The MLB is all about the past. Babe Ruth, Wrigley Field, America’s pastime.
The NFL celebrates its history while recognizing the present and preparing the future. They start each year off with the Hall of Fame game and inductions. They hype up the offseason deadlines. They even hold the combine on TV. The NFL is a 24/7, 365 day a year company. When baseball ends it goes silent until April. Not football.
It’s also fine when players like Peyton Manning retire. They still have Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton. What is the NBA going to do when Lebron retires? The same thing they did when Jordan retired, wait around for the next big thing. I don’t think Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry are the answers. Who knows, maybe Lonzo Ball could be that guy. Too bad they don’t have five other names immediately ready to take that mantle.
Only from inside the league can the NFL hurt itself. Roger Goodell’s handling’s with Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Deflategate truly hurt its image. Colin Kaepernick descended quickly into obscurity because he is a cog in the system; just another person passing by.
The NFL has endured for so long and is still the king of American sports because it has been continually innovative and ahead of the game.
It was the first league to secure major television deals back in the 1960s, create the most watched TV show in America (Sunday Night Football), create the single biggest non-holiday in the world (Super Bowl) and create an entire Emmy winning film division (NFL Films). Tell me what any other league or sporting organization has done to match this?
Yes the league has flaws. It is very dangerous and is a hotbed for CTE. Measures have been taken to correct this and the league is actively working to make the game safer. They are working at the youngest levels in USA Football to make sure that kids are playing the game the right way all the way through.
My hope is that the NFL will last as long as I live. I have lived and breathed it for over 13 years and I hope to share the greatness of it with generations to come. It is truly the finest sports organization in America as far as I’m concerned. Until facts or anything else prove me otherwise, I will stick to this belief.
As President Roosevelt once said, “In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is: hit the line hard.”