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Football Still Most Popular Sport in America Despite Controversies

Baseball is said to be America’s pastime, but football has actually been the most popular sport in America since 1972.

football most popular sport in america
Football has been the most popular sport in America since 1972, according to public opinion polls by Gallup.

As the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles face off tonight in Super Bowl LVII, one thing’s for sure: tonight’s game, as it has been for decades, will be this year’s most-watched television program with around 100 million viewers tuning in. After all, football is the most popular sport in America, as it has been since 1972.

The league has seen its fair share of controversies over the past 15 years: Deflategate, protests during the National Anthem by Colin Kaepernick and others, and the prevalence of concussion-induced CTE. Politics and concerns over violence have resulted in a modest decline in viewership for National Football League (NFL) regular season games. Since 2007, the percentage of Americans who say football is their favorite sport to watch has declined by six points, falling from 43 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2017, according to Gallup.

But football still reigns king in America. It's baseball whose popularity has seen a more prolonged decline. In 1960, 34 percent of Americans said baseball was their favorite sport, compared to 21 percent for football and 9 percent for basketball. Baseball has since lost ground to football and basketball. And now soccer is now almost as popular as baseball in America.

In 2017, seven percent of Americans said soccer was their favorite sport, compared to nine percent for baseball, which is still called "America's pastime." It may be more accurate to say that baseball was America's pastime.

Despite its troubles, football remains the most popular sport in America. And the NFL is a mega-industry. In 2022, the combined value of the NFL's 32 teams was a whopping $142 billion, according to Forbes. If the NFL were a country, by virtue of the value of its teams alone, it would rank as the 56th largest economy — above countries like Croatia, Ecuador, and Kuwait.

Three NFL teams — the Dallas Cowboys ($8 billion), the New England Patriots ($6.4 billion), and the Los Angeles Rams ($6.2 billion) — are the world's most valuable sports teams, according to Forbes.

The NFL generates billions of dollars annually in its broadcast deals with CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN, and Amazon. Deals with the networks range from 2-2.1 billion for the three broadcast networks, while ESPN pays 2.7 billion for the rights to Monday Night Football. Amazon, the NFL's newest partner, pays $1.2 billion annually for streaming rights.

The NFL's long-term future may be uncertain. But, at the moment, NFL team owners are raking in the dough. And more than 100 million people will tune in tonight to watch Patrick Mahomes take on Jalen Hurts in what is certain to be an epic quarterback matchup.

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