ollege basketball has March Madness.
Golf and tennis have their major tournaments.
Baseball has the World Series.
Hockey has the Stanley Cup.
Soccer has the World Cup.
Formula 1 has the World Driver’s Championship and the World Constructor’s Championship.
But football is the undisputed king of American sports because so many casual fans and the public in general watch its biggest game of the year—the Super Bowl.
This year, the Super Bowl was seen by an estimated 108.7 million people, down from the past two years, but still the third most-watched show in U.S. television history.
You could argue that the second most-watched show that day was the Blackout Bowl, because 106.6 million people kept their sets on the same channel during the power outage delay.
Is there any doubt that football is king in America?
No other sport commands such broad interest. It doesn’t matter which two teams play in the Super Bowl, whether it’s a small-market team like Green Bay or a major-market team like the New York Giants.
And football thrives year-round, even when games aren’t being played.
In the NFL’s off-season, free agency captures the fans’ interest, as fans hope their team picks up a player or two who will help them win next season.
In April, ESPN covers the NFL draft for three days. Fans hold watch parties and gather to see which college players are picked by their team. It has become a can’t-miss event, watching experts project which team is interested in which player and what round those players will be drafted.
The NFL even gets significant coverage when it announces the schedule of games for the coming season.
After that, it’s not long until training camps begin, which leads to preseason games in August and the regular season in September.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the significant interest in fantasy football, which is a chicken-and-egg question. Does fantasy football derive its popularity because of the NFL’s popularity or the other way around? Maybe it’s a little bit of both.
So why is football the 800-pound gorilla in American sports? First, the NFL has amazing athletes with a variety of skills. The games are weekly events, and it’s a game of ultimate strategy and execution. And to top it off, there’s parity.
But for all of its strengths, the NFL keeps tempting fate.
It has expanded its schedule to include regular games on Thursday nights, meaning teams occasionally play on a Sunday followed by a Thursday game. Anyone at all concerned about player safety knows that doesn’t allow the human body enough time to heal.
The sport itself is under fire for being too violent and dangerous. In spite of efforts to make the game safer, stories about frequent concussions, the use of painkillers and the long-term impact on the players’ health may finally take a toll on the public, not to mention the players themselves.
And in February 2014, the NFL will play a Super Bowl just outside of New York City in an open-air stadium. I know football is played in all kinds of weather conditions, but why put your biggest game of the year in a place where weather could affect the quality of the game? Because the NFL can do what it wants.
I mean, what could possibly go wrong by playing the Super Bowl indoors? Well, other than the lights going out?
Interesting factoids from ESPN.com following the recent Super Bowl:
Six of the past eight Super Bowl winners did not have a bye week to start the postseason.
Two quarterbacks from Division 1-AA Delaware have started a Super Bowl—Joe Flacco and Rich Gannon—while no quarterback from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Texas or USC ever has.
The Ravens became the second team to win the Super Bowl after ranking worse than 15th statistically on both offense and defense. Baltimore finished 16th in offense, 17th in defense. The 2001 Patriots won the Super Bowl after finishing 19th on offense and 24th on defense.
It has been 17 years since teams from either California or Texas, epicenters of football culture, have won a Super Bowl.