By Mark Falanga
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
In the book of Genesis, God took six days to create the earth and every form of life on this planet. On the seventh day, God rested, and held it as the Sabbath.
In present times, the average American male acts the same way. Working for six days and then resting on Sunday, to watch the NFL of course.
The sport transformed from a loose association of local teams into the biggest and most followed game that Americans watch. So much so that even Forbes magazine has called it America’s new pastime.
So it’s fair to say that the NFL is a true empire of the highly lucrative American sports world, but why is this?
Well, the first, and undoubtedly biggest reason is that the NFL is has an incredibly rabid fan base. However, it’s not just attendance at the actual games that’s breaking records, although it’s quite astonishing that nine of the 32 teams exceed 100 precent capacity in their respective stadiums. Television rights to broadcast this sport have never been higher. In 2011, all the major networks and ESPN jumped at the chance to renew. By the time this deal expires in 2022, it will be worth $3.1 billion compared to today when its current value is $1.93 billion.
The television contract also facilitates another medium: fantasy football. The NFL owes much of its popularity today to the fact that the popularity of this game has exploded over the past decade. For those of you who don’t play it, it’s simple. Instead of picking a team to do well, you and a group of friends pick players who you think will do well. Once you choose a player, one of your friends can’t pick that same player. Once you have enough players for a team, just sit back and watch to see if your player does well. Since there’s so many possible combinations of players on fantasy teams, football fans can often find themselves watching more football than just someone who is a fan of one team, merely just to see how their fantasy team is doing.
The other reason is that the NFL is the unquestioned ruler of the sport of football in this country. You could even call them a monopoly. In fact, a court decision in 1986 actually decided that it was indeed a monopoly. The dispute started in 1982, when another professional football league, the United States Football League, had its first season. They began to lure top college players, like quarterback Jim Kelly and running back Herschel Walker, to play for them.
The NFL didn’t take to this very kindly and when the USFL wanted to move their season from the spring to the fall, the NFL saw that as invading their turf. They then pressured the television networks not to air USFL games, and it was at this point the USFL then took the NFL to court. After 48 days of legal proceedings, the jury came to a verdict that the NFL was guilty of monopolistic practices, and the damages to be received by the USFL? $1, which was then tripled to $3. The USFL won the battle but ultimately lost the war, and folded soon after the hearing.
However, despite the success of the NFL there’s one key area that separates them from other sports like baseball and basketball: lack of international appeal. While the NFL regularly has one game in London every year, which is usually a sellout, it tried multiple times to set up a league in Europe only to fold after a few seasons. This lack of appeal across the world limits its growth opportunities and also dreams of one day becoming an Olympic sport.
Another hurdle any competitors face is that the NFL operates as a nonprofit organization, which may come to greatly hurt its public image. Indeed, the sport that generates billions of dollars is exempt from certain corporate taxes that every other company must pay. They’re not alone either, as the NHL and PGA also operate the same way. Senator Tom Coburn estimates it’s costing the American people $91 million, even though the executives in the organizations make million dollar salaries.
But despite these revelations, the popularity of the NFL remains high, even as ads for the 2014 Super Bowl climb to $4 million for 30 seconds. This almost certainly ensures that from sea to shining sea, Sunday will never set on the NFL empire.