The sports media industry in the USA is one of the biggest in the nation with thousands of hours dedicated to developing content every single year. Whether it is print, video content, podcasting, radio, there is always somewhere you can get your sporting fix covering minor and major sports in all across the country.
The NFL is the most popular sport in the US and the media have played a huge part in their journey to the top. NFL odds currently have the Chiefs and the Bills among the favorites for the Super Bowl next season and although we are in the offseason, the media continue to keep the pedal to the floor when it comes to the coverage of the draft, trades and previews of 2023.
The sports media industry differs from other media industries such as movies, TV and news in a few ways. One such difference is the rise of citizen journalism within sport. Whilst there are of course plenty of examples of citizen journalism in the other named industries, the accessibility of sports makes it a lot easier to infiltrate.
This has mainly come round due to the rise of social media and video sharing sites, namely YouTube. There are hundreds of thousands of channels dedicated not just to a sport but to the teams and athletes of said sport. This means that content can be much more condensed to fit specific niches within the umbrella it falls under, as opposed to the news for example.
It is hard to imagine a time where the NFL/American Football was more of a niche sport in the US. However, it was very much so for quite some time. For years, it was Baseball and the MLB which took the fancy of American sports fans, with football taking over in 1965.
It was in that decade that in which we saw the first ever cooperative television plan for professional football. ABC signed a five year television contract with the American Football League (AFL) in 1960 with the proceeds divided equally between member teams. This is one of the first and historically maybe the biggest example of the media promoting the NFL.
If it was not for the sport becoming easily viewable on one of the biggest broadcast TV networks in the nation at a time when TV sets were becoming more accessible it is unlikely it would have ever taken off as it did.
The NFL would eventually swallow the AFL and over the next couple of decades more and more networks would purchase the broadcasting rights for NFL games. This kind of competition sent the price for said rights into the stratosphere and by 1990 the league was making $900 million per year through these contracts with ABC, CBS, ESPN, NBC, and TNT, the largest in TV history.
It was now firmly a vital part of American culture and the media circus that surrounded (and still does) every game, interview, soundbite and rumor helped keep it that way.
This is of course a two way street however and there is good reason that networks now are happy to part with billions for broadcasting rights. TV networks make most of their money from advertising spots. NFL games are consistent ratings toppers.
More ratings means that they are more attractive to brands for said sports. The more attractive they are, the more they can charge these brands. The NFL itself even has brand deals with huge companies like Amazon, PepsiCo, Anheuser-Busch and Microsoft. In 2023, the amount the league makes of these sponsorships sits at around $1.9 billion, more than any other sports league in the world.
Whilst again, the allure of the league males the NFL a great tool for promotion, it also gives the NFL that extra added layer of legitimacy. The ability to become synonymous with the biggest brands in the world cements just why they are at the top.
There are some challenges that come with seeking promotion from the NFL however. One of the biggest potential stumbling blocks is the concussion issue within the sport. The league has always prided itself on their family friendly image and in the age of social media have taken a conscious step in being youth-focused. Many of their supporting brands are the same way but it may be tough to encourage them to attach their name to the league should the issue worsen.
Viewer fragmentation is also an issue with viewership among 18-49 year olds dropping steadily since 2011. One potential reason for this is that the average attention span of viewers has dropped significantly.
With the average football game lasting three hours despite the ball only being in play for around 11 minutes, viewers are easily distracted by their phones especially with some 20 commercial breaks throughout one game.
Despite these challenges, the NFL is still a media giant and during the regular season dominates TV, print, radio and all other media channels. The roll that the media has played in creating this giant cannot be understated and there is no doubt that the sport will continue to dominate in years to come.
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