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The NFL: America’s “New” Favorite Pastime


For generations, baseball was considered to be America’s favorite pastime.  In spite of the recent dispute between the owners and the NFLPA, professional football has become the most popular sport in the United States and the gap in popularity between the NFL and the other professional leagues is widening.  What makes football such a fan favorite in America and is there anything the other leagues can do to compete?

When the football season starts, you can be certain that on Sundays, many Americans will be on the couch glued to the television.  With a limited schedule of only sixteen regular season games, every single game counts.  Other professional leagues play far more games.  Major League Baseball teams play 162 games and that does not include the playoffs.  The National Basketball Association plays 82 regular season games before their drawn out playoffs begin.  There are fewer opportunities for football fans to watch games and even fewer opportunities to attend a live event.  In a world where people lose focus quickly, a shorter action-packed season is much more captivating.

The playoff format for football just adds to the excitement.  Where other leagues play numerous best-of series, football has a winner takes all format.  The winner moves on while the losing team and their heartbroken fans must wait until next year for another chance at the title.  Other leagues could learn a few lessons from the NFL.   Fans of other professional sports leagues lose interest early on in the season when the games have little impact on the rest of the year.  The extended playoffs in other sports do not add excitement; just length to their seasons.

College football is also seeing a huge increase in popularity.  Week after week, local collegiate heroes take the field on the national stage.  Just as with the NFL, every single college game can make or break the entire season.  College football feeds the NFL almost like minor league baseball teams develop athletes to compete in MLB.  Imagine if other sports minor league systems got as much air time as college football.  Once a college athlete enters the draft, he takes with him the adoration and support from all of the fans who followed his collegiate career.  This creates even more fans for the NFL.

It appears that Americans have become more interested in violence. This can be seen by the explosion in popularity of the UFC and other mixed martial arts events.  It is also impossible to go to a movie theater and not find movies filled with guns, explosions and people being killed.  While football is not quite as violent as the other two options, it can be fairly brutal.  Many athletes do not even complete the entire season due to injury and the average length of an NFL career is just over three years.  With advances in technology, fans at home can feel like they are right in the middle of the action.  Slow-motion replays and high definition televisions show every frame of the hard hits throughout a game.  How can other leagues compete with this?

We should not overlook the impact that gambling has on the popularity of football.  Betting spreads on pro and college games are readily available and easy to understand.  The NFL even provides injury reports on players prior to each week’s games.  Finally, for the most part games take place only within the space of a weekend and are thus easy to keep up with.  This makes it easy to calculate money won and lost from betting on the games.  Indeed, in Las Vegas, where sports gambling is legal, the Super Bowl is annually the athletic event with the highest amount of money wagered on it.

All professional sports need to increase the action and scoring, and reduce the down time in games.  Baseball games are nine innings long and it seems like there is a break every thirty seconds.  It is hard keep the excitement level up in baseball with so much inactivity.  By reducing the number of mound visits, pitches per at-bat and changing other rules, baseball games could be more exciting and much shorter.  It will be interesting to see if any other sport will be able to make changes and dethrone football as the most popular sport in America.

The relative popularity of various sports is of keen interest to those people who work in the field and administrators, coaches, management, and marketing.  These fields of study are key to anyone considering a career in sports beyond simply playing.  All of these topics can be studied by enrolling at the United States Sports Academy in one of the several degree programs offered.

Click here to read more on this topic. 

Ryan Kirkendoll is a bachelor’s student at the United States Sports Academy.  He is scheduled to receive his degree in 2012.  This article is an example of the kind of thinking and analysis expected of all students at USSA.  Students are encouraged to circulate serious ideas on the current state of the sport world. 


  1. Wait a year and see how much ‘love’ there is for Football when the 2011 season is cancelled. Football currently is all that you say it is. But football has been football for a long time and not always been anywhere near as popular. It’s not the schedule or playoff format that makes football popular. It’s popularity is due to its popularity which is taking on a life of its own.

    Sports fans can turn real fast if they feel betrayed. The pain and suffering of missing a season is still a ways away. The downside still lies ahead.

    There wuill be a price to pay it the NFL misses the year. How big a price is hard to say. But we might be referring to this period in time years from now as the time when Football reached the Apex of sports popularity in North America. And those days could be gone forever.

    • How many out there think that in the end either side in the NFL labor dispute will let the $9 billion pie sit uncooked in the oven?


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