The more things change the more they stay the same. The NFL is King of sports in America, and it’s not even close. Evidence of this comes in the form of Sports viewership this year. Christmas day has long been considered a day where sports fans watch NBA games. However, due to the fact that Christmas fell on a Saturday, the NFL decided to schedule games on Christmas day as well. This put sports fans in conflict. The NBA Christmas Day slate featured 5 games with some of the best teams put in the prime time slots. On the contrary, the NFL only had two Christmas Day games. Unlike the NBA, the NFL did not have the luxury of having all of the best games included for fans to enjoy. The two most-viewed games from each sport can be seen below:
What do these numbers tell us? Even on a day long-considered to be meant for the NBA, the NFL is King. The NBA’s top two games totaled 10.8 million viewers. The NFL’s top two games totaled 41.2 million viewers. What does this tell us? The NFL is on top of the sports world in America, and it’s not even close. Also worth noting is the fact that the Colts/Cardinals NFL game was only broadcasts on NFL Network. In addition to this, The Colts/Cardinals game was broadcasts on a cable channel, while the NBA put their game on ABC. Yet the NFL still more than double the NBA’s highest grossing game of Christmas day.
NFL vs NBA Viewership 2021
In order to fully grasp how fans value the NFL over NBA in today’s sports climate, it is important to look at 2021 viewership numbers. While numbers for the NFL and NBA are still coming in, here is a comparison of the first month of each sport:
The NFL pulled in an average of 17.4 million viewers in the first week of the NFL season. This was a 7% increase from the first week of the 2020 NFL season. Total viewership for the Thursday, Sunday, Monday slate of games in week 1 was over 100 million.
In comparison, the NBA saw an increase of 20% in viewership for their first week of the season. While it sounds like this would put the NBA near the NFL’s total, average viewership for the first 12 games of the year was only 1.44 million.
Also worth noting is the NBA decided to move its TNT Thursday games to Tuesday until January. By doing this, the NBA was able to avoid scheduling conflicts with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football. Just another factor driving home the point that the NFL is King.
Turkey and Football
As reported by CNBC, the NFL had a massive day in viewership on Thanksgiving this year. The top game of the day was between the Las Vegas Raiders and the Dallas Cowboys. Not only was the 38.3 million viewers a huge number, it was also the most for a NFL regular season game since 1990.
To drive home how impressive these numbers are, look no further than the early Thanksgiving game. Even though the contest featured the 3-7 Chicago Bears and the 0-9-1 Detroit Lions, the numbers for this game were still staggering. The game averaged 26.7 million views, an incredible number for such a lackluster game.
In all, Thanksgiving games this year averaged 27.1 million viewers for their three games. This total was a 9% increase from 2020.
The Big Game
To fully grasp how fans value football vs basketball, it is important to look at the big games. While the World Series ebbs and flows and the NBA Finals has dropped-off, the Super Bowl has remained constant. Here are some figures to help comprehend how baseball, basketball, and football are trending in viewership right now:
The MLB reached a high in 2003 when the Florida Marlins beat the New York Yankees 4-2 in the World Series. That year the World Series brought in an average of 25.47 million viewers. Ever since the 2003 World Series, the viewership numbers have gone way down. Although taking a sudden spike in the 2016 World Series when the Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians, that season’s numbers were a fluke. The 2019 season saw World Series viewership drop to an average of 13.91 million viewers. This year’s World Series saw an average of just 11.75 million viewers.
The NBA Finals has seen the biggest drop-off of all three major sports in America. Even so, the NBA Finals did see a major increase from the 2000s to the mid 2010s. After pulling in just 9.29 million viewers for the 2007 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Cavaliers led by young star LeBron James, viewership numbers began to rise. NBA fans were drawn to the Warriors rivalry with the Cavaliers. From 2015-2017, the NBA Finals averaged 20.17 million viewers per year. But, no sport’s viewership was rocked like the NBA was. Empty stadiums made NBA games hard for fans to watch. Even with a great storyline like LeBron winning his first ring in L.A., the 2020 NBA Finals only brought in 7.5 million viewers on average.
Unlike the World Series and the NBA Finals, the Super Bowl is still putting up remarkable numbers year after year. Since 2009 only twice have the average viewership numbers dipped below 100 million. Even the pandemic didn’t slow down NFL fans consuming football. Super Bowl LV still brought in 91.63 million viewers. The record for Super Bowl viewership came in Super Bowl XLIX between the Patriots and the Seahawks. An astounding 114.44 million viewers tuned in to watch Malcolm Butler pick off Russell Wilson at the goal line to preserve a Patriots win.
NFL is King
Although fans from all over the United States love watching sports of all different kinds, nothing comes even close to football. To put this into perspective the last five NBA Finals combined have brought in a total of 80.94 million viewers. Last year was not only a down year due to COVID-19 for the NFL, the Super Bowl was also a blowout. And yet there were still 91.63 million viewers.
One of the main reasons the NFL is so far ahead of baseball and basketball in viewership is a lower number of total games. Prior to the Pandemic the MLB had 162 games in a season and the NBA had 82 games. The NFL prior to this season has held 16 games per team. The problem with having more games is three fold. Firstly, fans can’t find time every day of the week to watch games. Secondly, games lose their importance. Where every week feels like a must win situation for NFL teams and their fans, MLB/NBA teams and their fans have know that one game most likely won’t dictate the outcome of their season. Lastly, the competition level of the NFL remains mostly even. Unlike in the NBA, there are no “Super Teams”. Unlike in the MLB there are no Yankees who have the financial means to get the best players.
Simply put, the NFL is not going anywhere. As long as football is played, it will be the most marketable and viewed sport in America. In the end, the NFL is King.
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