Four sports may overtake NFL
By Pawan Naidu
There might be cracks on football’s stranglehold on American sports. Whether you believe there is a war on football or not, it can’t be denied the sport has seen ratings decline in the past two years.
There are a number of reasons for this decline in viewership. One is the revelation of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, and the increased awareness of the serious effects of concussions. There are also players getting in arrested and being on the news for the wrong reasons. Football receives more news coverage and has more players than any other sport in the US, so it is not fair to say football players have a behavior problem compared to other sports. Nevertheless, the image of the number of players being arrested isn’t good for the NFL.
Some people point that the controversial national anthem protests by some players turned some viewers off from the sport. Others think football is becoming an outdated sport and other sports are more relatable to the new generation of fans.
To be fair, football gets ten times the ratings of other sports and is the prime jewel of five TV networks. It very well could be fine, and if it is in the decline, it is going to take a while before it is knocked off its pedestal.
But it does beg the question, if football is losing its place, what sport is going to take its spot? We’re going to take a look at the sports that could finally dethrone the national football league.
The sport that has gotten the most news coverage about being America’s new favorite sport is basketball. With global stars, like LeBron James and a historically great team in the Golden State Warriors, basketball is on a high right now.
Youth participation in football is on the decline and parents might look to basketball as a new sport their kids can participate in.
As previously mentioned, football is also more dangerous and the public is changing their views on how much we want to see athletes put their bodies at risk.
“America’s sport isn’t about who we were in the past but about who we want to be going forward,” wrote Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, an NBA Hall of Famer, in The Guardian. “We no longer see ourselves as Friday Night Lights warriors who send our best and brightest into combat on the field, needlessly risking their brains and futures for the sake of 11 minutes of actual play.”
Basketball players are also more marketable than their football counterparts. Michael Jordan still has the most popular footwear brand in the country. LeBron James signed a lifetime contract with Nike worth more than $1 billion a few years ago. There are also other stars who have sportswear company contracts and endorsements worth well over $10 million annually.
In contrast, the biggest contract Nike has given to an NFL star is $5 million over 5 years to Odell Beckham Jr., wide receiver for the New York Giants.
But to be fair to the NFL, football is more of a team sport than a star-driven sport. So, while the players from the NBA are going to be bigger stars and are marketed as such, the teams of the NFL have a leg up on their counterparts.
Forbes released a list of the most valuable sports teams of 2017 and the NFL had 28 of the top 50. The Dallas Cowboys were number one, beating all the soccer teams around the world.
When it comes to ratings, yes, the NFL has dipped and the NBA has risen, but basketball still has a ways to go. When looking at the most watched games every week, the sport averages between 22 and 27 million viewers per week, and the Super Bowl is watched by more than 103 million people, second only to the UEFA Champions League final. Saying the NBA is simply going to catch up to those numbers might be giving them a little too much credit.
We can’t forget the TV rights deal. The NBA signed a TV contract in 2014 worth $24 billion over nine years. It accomplished something great by obtaining that contract, but the NFL has billions of dollars in TV revenue as well. In fact, what is considered the NFL’s worst product, Thursday Night Football, recently signed a contract with FOX for $650 million for five years.
“Fundamentally, Fox is built on football,” said Peter Rice, the president of 21st Century Fox, in a press conference. “NFL football continues to be the most valuable commodity in all of media.”
People have been claiming that soccer has arrived in America since Pele, a Brazilian soccer legend took his talent to the states for the end of his career in 1975. Then there was the US hosting the World Cup in 1994. More recently, the national team was impressive in the 2014 FIFA World Cup, surviving the group of death, with favorites Germany and Portugal, and making it to the round of 16.
However, the soccer takeover in the US has yet to happen. With the US national team failing to qualify for this year’s World Cup in Russia, the future of the sport domestically looks grim. However, there is a reason to be optimistic that the sport could finally be the country’s future.
Soccer has the youth on its side. I mentioned previously that football is on the decline with youth popularity, but the NBA has some competition. Soccer is ranked second, behind the NFL, of what is the favorite sport among 18-34 year olds.
“The decline in baseball’s popularity among young people can be directly related to a decline in kids playing it,” wrote columnist Shane Paul Neil in the Huffington Post. “That decline started in the 1980’s and thirty years later, kids now are more interested in soccer than baseball.”
Soccer is also the most popular sport among the fastest growing population in the US, Hispanics. Demographers expect the Hispanic population to triple by 2050 and make up about one-third of the population. Twenty-six percent of Hispanics claim soccer is their favorite sport, compared to 23 for football and 14 for basketball.
Also mentioned previously, football has the most valued franchises in the world but soccer franchises are right behind. European soccer leagues bring in billions of dollars and fans.
We now live in a more globalized world than ever before and Americans have unprecedented access to these leagues and players. Players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar are bigger stars than LeBron, Kevin Durant, and Steph Curry internationally, and Americans might finally be able to embrace these stars like the rest of the world.
Another thing that soccer has going for it is that the teams are made up of players from all over the world. For example, Real Madrid that competes in the Spanish La Liga has players from France, Morocco, Brazil, Costa Rica, Portugal, Croatia, Germany, Uruguay, Norway, Ukraine, and Wales. The MLS has players from 67 different countries, while other sports typically have a large majority of their players from the US. That diversity can even improve the skills of domestic players and strengthen the national team.
“There is a positive relationship between diversity and performance that is visible even among the very best teams in the world,” said Edmund J. Malesky and Sebastian M. Saiegh, experts in Heterogeneity and Group Performance. “Teams that eschew international talent to cultivate solely homegrown are likely to come up short on the world’s biggest stage.”
Soccer doesn’t have a clear path to the top though. While the MLS is growing in popularity, it is impossible to ignore the inferiority to other leagues around the world. The NFL and NBA have the best players in the world and the best players from other countries come here to compete in these sports. That is not so for the US soccer league.
So there is an uphill battle for the MLS and soccer. The sport has a climb to legitimize itself with American fans that other sports don’t have too.
“MLS is still a second-tier product, full of dull play and even less compelling players, with a top-down league ownership structure that neuters real competition and an obnoxious, proselytizing hardcore fanbase,” Billy Haisley wrote for Deadspin.
Bet you didn’t see this one coming, did you? The only thing that might be able to take down football is football. The NFL can thank their rise to the top to college football. People started tuning into the professional league to continue watching their favorite college players develop.
The youth problem that the NFL has isn’t a worry for its college counterpart. College kids love football. I go to a university in Madison, WI, and do you all understand how much this town embraces gameday.
Think about how those Southeastern Conference (SEC) and Texas schools are during gameday. Young people don’t have any problem getting excited about football when they’re at college. It’s a huge advantage for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Football (NCAAF).
One thing any sport needs, if it is going to be able to overtake the NFL, is a passionate fanbase. I like to equate college football to international soccer. Nothing gets sports fans more passionate than these two sports.
Do you want to know something, people care about others, who share the same identities. It matters to people who their family is. If you’re religious, it matters who shares your faith. We all care who our neighbors are and we feel connected with people who went to the same school as us.
Feeling connected with someone is a very powerful tool and college football allows people to do that.
The Super Bowl is the NFL’s crown jewel. It gets over 100 million people to watch every year and no one can compete domestically. A big reason is that the NFL doesn’t have series in their playoffs. There is simply one game to crown a champion. A single game to crown a champion creates anticipation and pressure that a series simply does not.
“Whenever a Game 7 comes up in the NBA or NHL or Major League Baseball playoffs, people get so amped up and excited: ‘Oh, it’s winner take all! How exciting!” wrote Adam Lazarus in the Bleacher Report. “Well, in the NFL playoffs every game has that same winner-take-all element. Win or go home.”
College football also has one game that crowns a champion and with a newly implemented four-team playoff, it is poised to replicate the drama the NFL provides.
“The first College Football Playoff delivered on its promise to make its initial championship game an event, Super Bowl-like,” wrote Dennis Dodd, college football columnist. “It did it mostly with taste, class,”
As with the other sports, college football faces some roadblocks as well. For one, it is a very regional sport. People are so passionate about their individual teams and conferences, it could deter people from paying attention to the league as well.
College football also rotates players quite frequently and popular players take their popularity to the NFL with them. Players like Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel, and Baker Mayfield were only in the sport for a couple of years before the NFL gobbled them up.
While the other sports get to air when the NFL is in its offseason, college football is in direct competition with the professional league. Trying to beat a giant in a direct fight can be a daunting task.
The sport that might be most equipped to take down football is the guy who was considered old and washed up, but isn’t ready to retire just yet.
Before football was what it was, baseball was America’s favorite past time. Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Barry Bonds… I could go on but my editor will tell me the list is getting too long. These players were not only sports stars but cultural icons that carried a nation on its shoulders.
However, baseball has taken a hit the past decade and a half. With the revelation about the number of players using performance-enhancing drugs and people wanting a faster pace of play, the baseball audience is not what it used to be.
Recently, baseball has been showing signs of a rebirth. First off, the players from the steroid era are gone. The sport experienced a great fall when it came out that a lot of players were using performance-enhancing drugs. Congressional hearings were held and people still discuss the residue of it today.
There is a new generation of players and people might be ready to embrace the sport again. These new players could lead baseball into a new era and bring it back to its glory days.
One thing about baseball is people tend to watch it at the biggest moments. The world series has had an average of 17 million viewers in the last three years. That includes almost 30 million people watching last year’s game seven and over 40 million people watching the year prior. Basketball, soccer and college football have never gotten those numbers.
Baseball also seems to be good at globalizing the sport, while keeping the perception that the game is really patriotic. The MLB brings in a lot of players from around the world to play. These international players help build a global audience.
One thing baseball can do that basketball and soccer can’t, is the appeal to American fans. Americans know that baseball is their sport. American history and culture are ingrained in the sport. Soccer and basketball will never mean as much to America as baseball means to her.
College football has a chance because football appeals to people’s patriotism, but baseball has players stick around for over a decade. Baseball was once America’s sport and it might become again.
We have to address the pace of the game though. Hardcore baseball fans love the pace. They feel it’s methodical and requires intellect. Casual fans simply get bored. I’ve had multiple people tell me they can’t sit through a game.
Baseball is changing rules to speed up the game, which is upsetting current fans because they feel the game is being changed. Baseball is going to have to find a balance between adapting to today’s audience and respecting the history of the game. It’s not going to be easy.
As I mentioned, baseball could relive their history but it’s not going to be easy. Things like doping scandals and rule changes stick with people, and fans want to believe the integrity of the game isn’t compromised. So it’s going to be an uphill battle for the sport to move on from it.
In the End
Each sport has their own reasons why they can or cannot overtake the NFL. Basketball, soccer, baseball and college football have passionate fans and in the coming years are going to make the NFL nervous.
It is also possible football keeps its throne. McDonald’s might see dips in revenue but it takes a lot before people start considering that they could lose their spot.
If one of these sports is going to take over, we won’t see it happen any time soon. Until then we should all enjoy all these sports because they’re all pretty fun to watch.
|NFL||Fox, CBS, NBC, ESPN||To 2022||$27 billion|
|NBA||ABC, ESPN, TNT||To 2024-25||$24 billion|
ESPN, Fox Sports
|NCAAF||ESPN, FOX, CBS, ABC||To 2025||$8 billion|
|MLB||Fox, TBS, ESPN||To 2012||$12.4 billion|
Sources: Sports Illustrated, Business Insider, CBA and Adweek