Why Football?

Have you ever wondered why we possess such a voracious appetite for football? It’s easy to say the game is fast, exciting, and fun; all of that is true. But WHY do we find it so entertaining? Why are we obsessed with quarterbacks and what they get paid? Why do we freak out over tweets that reveal a star running back boarding a flight in one country, bound for another? Why do we over-analyze anything and everything related to the NFL?

In 2018, when almost every other TV show and program across every genre dealt with declining viewership, the NFL rebounded. After a couple down years, the league saw its ratings climb an average of five percent per game in the regular season. Roughly 15.8 million fans tuned into each broadcast; and the most-watched game of the season topped 30 million viewers (Redskins and Cowboys, Week 12 on Fox). In January, the playoff numbers skyrocketed even more: a ten percent jump over the previous winter. The ten postseason contests leading up to the Super Bowl in Atlanta averaged 34.1 million viewers each. The AFC Championship on CBS powered the rise by delivering 53.9 million! Keep in mind that whopping number is the mean for what was an epic overtime clash in Kansas City. Of course, the NFL’s increased profile wasn’t limited to traditional television. Across all digital platforms, viewership of live streams soared 86% as more games were offered online.

Oddly enough, the NFL continues to expand its fan base even as fewer youth want to participate in 11-player football. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, almost 31,000 boys spurned the sport compared to the prior academic year. Sparked by such a drastic change, overall participation in high school sports was down for the first time in three decades. The survey also indicates boys’ involvement in NFL-style football waned in 44 of 50 states as well as the District of Columbia. However, more girls are choosing football; with more opportunities, their numbers have nearly doubled from 10 years ago.

There was bound to be a ripple effect in scholastic football with the extra focus on concussions and head injuries at the highest level of the sport. From a myriad of rules changes designed to protect athletes from the neck up to increased fines and suspensions for offenders to independent doctors on the sidelines to stricter concussion protocols–the NFL is finally reacting to the science and research. Since there is an obvious, though somewhat unpredictable, connection between repeated hits to the head and long-term mental health, fewer families and kids are willing to take the risk. That trend is likely to continue with the intense spotlight on all things NFL. One prime example? We now know more about Antonio Brown’s favorite helmet and the league’s certification process than at any other point in history!

Yet despite the highly-publicized drawbacks of tackle football and the other routine controversies that pop up on a regular basis, fans are undeterred. So what is it? Why do we love football as much as we do? The popularity of the NFL can’t be solely attributed to gambling and the growth of fantasy because people can bet on any other sport and more frequently when you compare number of games. Plus, only a few days a week can fans utilize the daily fantasy option with football.

No doubt that’s one major reason for the surging popularity of the NFL–the limited number of games. With only 17 weeks in the regular season (and 16 appearances per team), the sense of urgency is acute for the league and its fans. It’s no exaggeration to declare that EVERY weekend shapes the eventual playoff picture. If we miss an NFL Sunday, we miss out. Watching highlights after the fact isn’t the same. We crave instant analysis and reaction, the conversation generated by social media where we can connect with thousands of others doing what we’re doing.

The NFL does a masterful job at perpetuating the conversation. Whether it’s the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube or strategically-placed offseason events like the Combine, Draft and owners’ meetings–the league never truly goes away. When we don’t have games to keep us engaged, we follow free agency, contract negotiations, OTAs, breaking news, and rules changes. In 2019, we want to be “inside the ropes” with an all access pass, and the NFL offers that illusion. RedZone is uber-popular because it appeals to our need for access AND our shortened attention spans, whisking us from stadium to stadium for all the critical moments each Sunday.

In the United States, we love the biggest, the fastest, the strongest, the best of the best. The NFL showcases some of the world’s top athletes in a hyper-competitive environment where anything can and will happen. There is no replicating the energy, the exhilaration, the speed, the intensity, the emotion on full display, the fever that’s contagious. It’s also not a coincidence that TV ratings surged during a year when scoring was off the charts. When the dust settled, teams combined for a record 1,371 touchdowns in the regular season. Remember the Chiefs and Rams going over 100 points on Monday Night Football?? And these aren’t garbage time TDs. To add to the general delirium, 73 games were decided by a field goal or LESS last season, the most in NFL history.

All of this is fantastic news as the 2019 season kicks off. There are very few signs of over-saturation with the national fan base. We still can’t seem to get enough. And the NFL is happy to oblige.

Bring on Week One!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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