Football: Can there be too much of a good thing?
This week college football games will be televised Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and NFL games will be televised Thursday, Sunday and Monday.
Canadian Football League games will be shown Friday and Saturday (and, during other weeks, Sunday and Monday).
High school games will be televised Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
(And you’re asking: What are we supposed to do on Tuesday and Wednesday, talk to the kids? Read a book? Egads, watch soccer?!)
Football, football and more football. We just can’t seem to get enough.
One TV network alone pulled in 81 million viewers for college football’s opening weekend. In 2014, that network and its affiliates had more than 185.7 million viewers during the regular season. The NFL had 202 million viewers in 2015 for just the regular season — 17.6 million per game. Even when there isn’t a game, we’re watching. ESPN, which spent $15.2 billion on NFL broadcasting rights, devoted an average of four hours per day to NFL-related programs in 2015.
NFL attendance is 17 million each year. College football attendance surpassed 49 million last season. Another 350 million people attended high school football games. About 75 million people play fantasy football.
It seems that nothing can stop our love of the game. Not domestic violence by its players. Not performance-enhancing drugs. Not the players’ crippling injuries or concussions or brain damage or shortened life spans. Not Roger Goodell. Not the Cleveland Browns. Not the imperious, arrogant, hypocritical NCAA. Not the unfair structure of the college game. Not the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on college facilities.
But will the almost daily offering of football games finally prove to be too much? Could the immense popularity of football ever fade away because the games became so routine when once they were an event?
Never, you say. Americans would have said the same thing about horse racing and boxing a few decades ago; now they have been pushed to the back pages of the sports section, if not ignored completely. Boxing, horse racing and baseball once dominated sports in the first half of the 20th century.
Major League Baseball is still big business but it is completely overshadowed by football. Boxing faded away amid corruption, competing federations, overly powerful and greedy promoters, and the lack of a star heavyweight, a la Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Tyson. Almost no one pays attention to horseracing until there’s the promise of a Triple Crown winner. The sport was overtaken by other sports, by gambling issues, its lack of TV appeal and much more.
Now it’s football, football, football and more football. It’s a national addiction and our suppliers just keep feeding us more and more. Football was once a weekend pastime; now it can be found on TV five days a week. The NFL expanded from Sunday to Monday nights for the first time in 1970 after experimenting with it a few times during the 1960s. Monday Night Football — MNF — became an American institution. In 2014 Thursday Night Football debuted on network television.
On a list of the 15 most-watched shows of 2015, the Super Bowl was first, the Super Bowl post-game show was second, the AFC championship game was third, the college football championship game was fifth, an NFL playoff game was tied for ninth, two NFL playoff games were tied for 11th and a Sunday Night Football game was tied for 15th. The only other shows to make the list were the Academy Awards and "The Walking Dead."
And yet it’s possible that in the distant future things could change. The publicity given to football’s injuries, especially brain injuries, could be its undoing. The movie “Concussion” drew even more attention to the issue. So have the early retirements of several NFL players who walked away from the game in their 20s to preserve their health.
Participation in high school football is declining. Bloomberg reported that half the parents in a 2014 survey revealed they would not let their kids play football. Even star players say they wouldn’t let their kids play the game — Adrian Peterson, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, among many others.
But it remains to be seen if that would ever affect the country’s love of watching the game. So far, Americans can’t get enough of the pro and college games. All you have to do is turn on the TV to know that.