If the last calendar year or so has taught us nothing else as sports fans, it’s taught us that the NFL is simply special and therefore able to operate under its own rules. The NBA lockout might as well be happening in Siberia somewhere based on the attention, or lack thereof, that it’s getting in comparison to the NFL’s recent round of labor strife. And unlike other leagues that have had to do serious amounts of damage control in the aftermath of their own ugly labor episodes, the NFL staged a grotesquely gluttonous $9.1 billion cash grab, commanding daily headlines during the worst economy in recent memory and not only do they re-open to find fans not put off, they find us clamoring at an even greater level for the league’s return despite the fact that we haven’t really been deprived of anything.
Maybe it’s the fact that we weren’t deprived of football in comparison to other recent sports work stoppages that makes forgiving so easy, but the NFL is king of American sports for a host of reasons that most can never hope to compete with.
Whether they care to admit it or not, the NFL benefits greatly from the public’s interest in betting on football. More than any other sport, football’s ease at deciphering and attempting to predict lines and spreads makes it fun and easy for even the most inexperienced gamblers. Fans will watch even the worst of games if there’s money on the line, or even if they see it as an opportunity to learn something that could make them money later in the season.
A reasonable alternative to gambling, fantasy football has given fans a whole new level of interest in games that don’t involve the teams that they normally follow. As fantasy becomes more and more mainstream, fans have found it an acceptable alternative to traditional sports gambling. Instead of staking money on each game, fans can now spread their interest over a number of players and therefore teams in a season long endeavor with a much smaller investment.
Part of the allure of fantasy football however has to be due to the league’s popularity in the first place. Fantasy baseball and basketball are equally or even more fun than fantasy football yet don’t get or attract the same levels of interest to their respective leagues. Both actual and fantasy football probably owe a bit of their popularity to the popularity of the other.
Staging all of the games (basically) on the same day or in limited primetime slots takes local television out of the equation. By insuring that everyone goes home with an equal share of the TV revenue pie the NFL lays the groundwork for parity. The salary cap (and floor) should all but assure it. That fans in every market feel the opportunity to compete on even ground with the mega-markets gives the league far reaching appeal and makes it easier for smaller markets to support their teams financially.
Single elimination, one and done survive and advance…whatever you want to call it, we eat it up. While baseball, basketball (professional) and hockey do more to ensure that the best team wins it in the end with 7-game series’, there’s nothing like single elimination. You can wait for series’ in those other sports to get interesting before deciding to invest your interest in the games, in football (and the NCAA Basketball Tournament) every game is all or nothing and therefore must see.
The Super Bowl
The Super Bowl is in and of itself an event, regardless of who’s in it. If the Brewers play the Tigers in the World Series this year there’ll be talk of ratings concerns and whether anyone will care enough to watch it. Basketball would (and may) have a similar issue if Orlando and Oklahoma City met in the Finals (if they ever get a season in). Somehow the NBA has an uncanny knack for (nearly) always having a mega market in their finals. The NFL though never has that problem with the Super Bowl…see Pittsburgh vs. Green Bay last year.