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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Why is the NFL the most watched US Sport?

We haven't written a sports themed post for A&G in a while so today's as good a day as any..

Last weekend in the NFL, there were four divisional games played that by all accounts, football fans felt were terrific... there was lots of scoring.. high drama.. two games went into overtime..

And the big question on sports talk stations nationally was what makes the NFL the #1 sport in America..  How come it is so popular and growing in even greater fandom?

And there were many reasons given by the various talk-show blowhards and those who patiently wait 30-45 minutes on hold simply to get their 30sec of radio air time before being disrespectfully cut short..

Some said it was the quality of the game-- the hard hits, the last second heroics...  others said it was the parity of the league, where unlike other sports you can truly believe your team can jump from 'terrible' to terrific' in one campaign..

Many answers given-- too many to go into here..
~ NFL Greats Peyton Manning (18) and Ray Lewis (52)

And yet no one touched on the biggest and most important reason for the NFL's continued success and ever-growing popularity:

Pretty much, its free to watch.

Think about that..   this is no small thing in today's era of cable and professional sports teams seeking to develop their own exclusive sports network, much like the New York Yankees currently with the YES Network.

For those who may not be football die-hards or much in the way of sports enthusiasts, here's how the four major sports of football, baseball, basketball and hockey differ when it comes to television coverage and accessibility.  Because yours truly does not have cable television, I will include myself in this explanation.

* Note, when I write of cable TV, this includes satellite and dish too...

If you live in a city where you love your local football team as I do, you are guaranteed to see every game on free television i.e. NBC, CBS or Fox.   If my local team is scheduled to be shown on ESPN's Monday Night Football, then the local ABC station usually carries the feed for the local market (ABC owns ESPN among other networks)  And if my local team is scheduled to be on the NFL network, that game is usually shown locally for free on a UHF station.

So unless you happen to be a big fan of a football team outside your local market or just enjoy watching regardless of who is playing, you can never have to pay an additional penny to watch your team play and you get continuity of preseason to Super Bowl being free (assuming your team is good enough to make it to the title game)

And in spite of all the free telecasts, the NFL is the Most profitable of the four major US team sports..

Following the local baseball team devoutly where I am requires getting cable, which as stated earlier I do not get.  So if I want to watch my team play for free without going to a sports pub or such, the only game offered is each Sunday afternoon on the local UHF station.  All other games including Sunday Night Baseball in ESPN, I need to pay cable to see.

There's 162 regular season baseball games so unless I caved in and got cable TV, the most games I would be able to watch is 26.

The playoffs used to be all on free TV until TBS got into the act... they show all the divisional series and split duties with Fox to show the Championship Series.  So if my team was good enough to make it to the World Series, there's a realistic chance that without paying cable, I would not be able to see a moment of live action until Game 1 of the Series.

If you thought it was tough to watch your local baseball team on free TV, good luck with basketball!  Where I live, the sports cable network has exclusive control of all home and away feeds to games not covered by national TV.  And what are the national TV networks?  TBS, TNT, ESPN and ABC with the latter being the only free TV option.

ABC doesn't start showing basketball games until about mid-season with their Christmas telecast then shows two games every Sunday until a Champion is crowned, and they only show the marquee games.  (The NBA Championship is split betw. ABC and ESPN)

In other words, they won't hesitate to show Miami Heat or LA Lakers games a gazillion times because it attracts larger viewers.  So if you're a fan of an average team or a quality small market team, chances are you may go the entire season without watching a minute of your favorite team on free television.

Hockey is pretty much like basketball. Where I live, the local sports cable network owns rights to all home and away games not covered by the national networks.   NBC shows 1 hockey game a week every Sunday until the Stanley Cup is over, and has a sister cable network called NBC Sports where games can be seen.

So like with the NBA, if you love your local hockey team and don't have cable, you could literally go a full season and never ever see your team play from the comfort of your home.

It didn't used to be like this of course-- there was a time one could watch their local sports teams play on UHF stations.  Usually all the away games shown for free and the home games required cable to view.

And there was a time ESPN only showed the most weird, wacky and wild sports like Australian Rules football, BMX bike races and competitions to see which lumberjack could saw the most logs in quickest time.  It was a niche network for only sports diehards.
But now things have most certainly changed, and for a generation or two of sports fans, they know of nothing different than to automatically toss away $50/month in cable bills counting taxes simply to support their local teams (which adds up to $600/year)

And in spite of the myths, not everyone has cable television. In fact, around 30% of the US population does not.  Many can't afford it especially with its tier packages vs simply picking n' choosing the stations one wishes to see...

And some like myself simply watch so little television, its an utter waste to pay for it.

But once again, we go back to the NFL...

Every local preseason game-- free TV

Every local regular season game -- free TV

Every playoff game including Super Bowl -- Free TV
Continuity is important for people, especially when it comes to television...

Imagine if your favorite prime time television programs were divided over 2 or 3 networks... Or you could only access episode 1, 5, 10 and 22 of a 22 episode season for free -- the rest you had to pay for...  How likely would you be to watch loyally?

It is for this reason more than any other the NFL is King..

And will continue to reign supreme in the US for a long while.