As the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers face off tonight in Super Bowl LVIII, one thing’s for sure: tonight’s game, as it has been for decades, will be this year’s most-watched television program, with more than 100 million viewers expected to tune in. After all, football is the most popular sport in America, as it has been since 1972.
According to a survey by Gallup in December 2023, 41 percent of Americans say football is their favorite sport to watch.
Football is Back
The NFL 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 resulted in a modest decline in viewership for National Football League (NFL) regular season games. And it led to a small drop in the percentage of Americans who say football is their favorite sport to watch, falling from 43 percent in 2007 to 37 percent in 2017, according to Gallup.
But football not only still reigns king in America, it's back with a vengeance. Football is as popular as it's ever been over the past decade. And NFL games were a whopping 93 out of the 100 most-watched television programs in 2023.
The NFL Is an Empire
Despite its troubles, football remains the most popular sport in America. And the NFL is a mega-industry. In 2023, the combined value of the NFL's 32 teams was a whopping $163 billion, according to Forbes. If the NFL were a country, by virtue of the value of its teams alone, it would rank as the 60th largest economy — above countries like Croatia, Ecuador, and Ukraine.
The Dallas Cowboys — worth an estimated $9 billion — are the world's most valuable sports team, according to Forbes. Two other NFL teams — the New England Patriots ($7 billion) and the Los Angeles Rams ($6.9 billion) — rank among the five the world's most valuable sports teams.
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 Brock Purdy in what is certain to be an epic quarterback matchup.
Baseball Losing Fans
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, to a lesser extent, soccer. In 2023, five percent of Americans said soccer was their favorite sport.
Today, only ten percent of Americans say baseball is their favorite sport to watch. While baseball is still called "America's pastime," it may be more accurate to say that it was America's pastime.
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