For some people, fall sounds like leaves crunching underfoot in the midst of a brisk autumn walk.
To others, fall sounds like helmets crunching on the field in the midst of a bone-crushing tackle.
The National Football League has done its part to make that second sound music to fans’ ears. Each season, NFL teams see higher average live attendance at games than any other professional sport. Millions of fans – and people who haven’t watched a game all season and know virtually nothing about the players, the teams or even the sport — gather each February to watch the NFL crown its champion at the Super Bowl.
It takes moxie to make professional football the center of attention each fall, and the NFL has it. Here’s how:
It takes moxie to ride into history.
The National Football League was officially born 99 years ago this September in the showroom of an automobile dealership in Canton, Ohio. Football club owners from across the Midwest had been meeting for a month in Ralph Hay’s Jordan and Hupmobile auto dealership to work out exactly how they could establish a professional league that would stabilize teams and schedules and allows the sport to take root. Perched on fenders and running boards, representatives of the Akron Pros, Canton Bulldogs, Cleveland Indians, Dayton Triangles, Decatur Staleys, Hammond Pros, Massillon Tigers, Muncie Flyers, Racine Cardinals, Rochester Jeffersons, and Rock Island Independents huddled around, hammering out a deal. The American Professional Football Association (APFA), an antecedent of the NFL, was born.
Within two weeks, the first interleague matchups were played, with Dayton defeating Columbus 14-0 and Rock Island rocking Muncie 45-0.
Did Jim Thorpe, sports legend and the league’s first president, know he was making history? Did any of the other team owners and organizers that signed on to the charter documents? It seems like a somewhat inauspicious start to what’s become the most popular professional sports league in the world. But nearly 100 years later, few people have heard of a Jordan or a Hupmobile, but nearly everyone knows a little something about professional football.
It takes moxie to make people pay attention.
Professional football is so deeply ingrained in American culture that it dominates broadcast airwaves on Sunday, Monday, and Thursday from September through February. In addition to the often capacity crowds watching games in person, millions of fans tune in each week to watch teams play.
Then there’s the Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl has become the most-watched North American television broadcast of the year. Not just the most-watched sports broadcast, but the most-watched broadcast of any type of broadcast programming. Even the series finale of M*A*S*H was eventually unseated by a Super Bowl broadcast.
But the influence of the game goes even deeper, and it’s become an avatar for bigger cultural battles. A couple of seasons ago then-quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to use his platform to make a statement about race and authority. He refused to stand at attention during the pre-game singing of the national anthem. His protest was taken up by other players, on other teams, in other leagues and even other sports. The controversy over whether players should stand or kneel during the national anthem has sparked much debate, and that debate has not been confined to the field but has erupted in every corner of the culture up to and including the White House.
Why? Because people pay attention to the NFL. The protest would never have been an issue if the NFL didn’t matter.
It takes moxie to move merch.
All those eyeballs on the field each week and all that passionate engagement with the league translates to dollars. And the dollars don’t stop flowing into fan gear like jerseys and hats and flags and other symbols of team devotion.
The NFL drives purchases in other verticals, such as food, beverages, furniture, and electronics. The Super Bowl is second only to Thanksgiving – a holiday centered almost entirely around eating a big feast — as the highest food consumption day of the year. If you are looking for a deal on a television or living room furniture, you’ll find it during football season.
Advertisers recognize the value of the NFL, too. Want to purchase air time during the Super Bowl? That will set you back more than $5.25 million for a 30-second spot. Super Bowl ads have become an event and a sport unto themselves, with people tuning in just to watch and rate those spots, just as other watch and rate the teams and players.
Money and influence are significant measures of moxie, and the NFL has both.
Who do you think is the most consequential NFL figure of all time? If I had the chance to interview them, what would you like me to ask?