Why the NFL is Better than Other Major Pro Sports Leagues

This editorial is one man's opinion.  It is not meant to appear dogmatic; to the contrary, I welcome and respect opposing viewpoints.  Here are my thoughts.

Football is America's sport.  At one time baseball truly was America's pastime, but the keepers of the game, both owners and players, let that banner slip away.  While the popularity of the National Football League has grown steadily and rapidly through the years, baseball could not keep pace.  You can check any ratings, any market surveys or any data you can get your hands on, and the conclusion reamins the same: football is king in the United States.  NFL preseason games outdraw regular-season games in other sports.  NFL regular-season games trump postseason events of other sports, and nothing comes close to the Super Bowl.  Even the NFL Draft, which puts all other drafts to shame, frequently rates higher (3.4 rating in 2008) than what other sports often put on the field or court.

The reason for this is both simple and profound.  The owners and players of the NFL have always realized that equality breeds strength and that "less is more."  If you make certain that the game is played fairly on a level playing field, and presented in just the right dosage to the marketplace, the financial results will follow.

According to Forbes financial data from 2007, the average NFL franchise is now valued at $957 million.  This demolishes the competition.  You would have to own an average Major League Baseball team, an average NBA team and an average NHL franchise just to barely surpass the value of an average football team.

Franchise Value of NFL Teams
Average NFL Team (Millions $) $957
Highest (Dallas Cowboys) $1,500
Lowest (Minnesota Vikings) $782
Pittsburgh Steelers (16th of 32) $929

Franchise Value of MLB Teams
Average MLB Team (Millions $) $472
Highest (New York Yankees) $1,306
Lowest (Florida Marlins) $256
Pittsburgh Pirates (28th of 32) $292

Franchise Value of NBA Teams
Average NBA Team (Millions $)    $372
Highest (New York Knicks) $608
Lowest (Portland Trailblazers) $253
No Pittsburgh NBA franchise -

Franchise Values of NHL Teams
Average NHL Team (Millions $) $180
Highest (Toronto Maple Leafs) $332
Lowest (Washington Capitals) $127
Pittsburgh Penguins (28th of 32) $133

Looking at incoming revenue, again from Forbes 2007 financial compilations, the NFL is the king despite its massive disadvantage (get to that soon):

 

Incoming Revenue of NFL Teams
Total NFL Annual Revenue (Millions $) $6,539
Average Per Team $205
Highest (Washington Redskins) $312
Lowest (Minnesota Vikings) $182
Pittsburgh Steelers (13th) $198

 

Incoming Revenue of MLBTeams
Total MLB Annual Revenue (Millions $) $5,489
Average Per Team $183
Highest (New York Yankees) $327
Lowest (Florida Marlins) $128
Pittsburgh Pirates (27th) $139

Incoming Revenue of NBA Teams
Total NBA Annual Revenue (Millions $) $3.573
Average Per Team $119
Highest (New York Knicks) $196
Lowest (Seattle/OK City? Sonics) $81

Incoming Revenue of NHL Teams
Total NBA Annual Revenue (Millions $) $2,267
Average Per Team $76
Highest (Toronto Maple Leafs) $119
Lowest (Nashville Predator) $61
Pittsburgh Penguins (28th) $63

 

Upon first blush, it appears like major League Baseball is giving the NFL a run for its money in total revenue, trailing by a relatively marginal amount, $6.5 billion to $5.5 billion (what's a measly billion amongst friends).  However, baseball gets 2,430 events (regular season games only) to sell tickets, beer, hot dogs, parking spaces and television opportunities.  Football has roughly one-tenth the opportunities (256 annual contests).  Basketball and hockey get 1,230 events and they aren't even in the picture.  How can an entity with one-tenth or one-fifth the inventory out-revenue the opposition with that earlier-mentioned massive advantage? Here are my speculations.

1)  Payroll Disparity

The NFL has no New York Yankees and Florida Marlins, whose payroll disparity is so unfairly ridiculous that such a system could not possibly grow in popularity.  The Yankees, with their payroll of $207 million, have two players (Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi) who will make more money this season than the entire Florida Marlins roster ($22 million).  The caretakers of baseball should be ashamed of themselves. The players and their leadership care about two things and two things only, maximum compensation and maximum flexibility. The large-market owners who have inherent geographic and financial advantages agree with the players who think the system is just peachy keen.  The small-market teams, who should be in an uproar, are not because they pocket the modest revenue sharing that does exist without any mandate to spend on player salaries.

The NFL does have the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins.  Regardless of market, each team has equal chance to compete within the system.  There are no inherent advantages.  If a team is not experiencing success it is not because the system designs it to fail.  The math just works out that way.  The beauty though, for NFL fans, is that no matter how bad your team is this year, there is hope around the corner.  You will get high draft choices and you will be able to spend roughly the same amount on players as all the other teams.  Using the equal distribution doctrine as its flagship, the NFL guarantees hope for everyone.

The Pirates used to be the pride of Pittsburgh, but no longer.  Sure, they can possibly catch lightning in a bottle and make a run in a given year. The stars could be aligned just right so that all their young players (they can't afford any high-priced veterans) get hot all in the same year; they could stay healthy and get a few bounces.  Pirates' fans had better not hold their breath though.  The sad truth is, once the Penguins' season is over, sports fans in Pittsburgh wait until football training camp opens.  Occasionally they will go to beautiful PNC Park on a warm summer night to take in a ballgame, but they don't go there with any aspirations of a championship or much passion for the most part.

On this matter I will give the NBA and NHL credit.  They also have salary caps. The NHL cap is about $50 and the league worked very hard about four years ago to get this done.  They paid the heavy price of a lost season, but at least they sacrificed for a bigger gain in the long run.  The NBA's cap is a bit creative with some "soft money" allowances.  Each franchise can re-sign their biggest star, no matter the cap overage, for 175 percent of his salary just to keep franchise stable (the Larry Bird Rule).

2)  Regular Season Length

Another arrow in the NFL's quiver is the fact that the season is the ideal length.   A four-month regular season followed by the playoffs is perfect.  Baseball, basketball and hockey just don't get it.  They are so hell-bent on maximizing ticket and television potential that they stretch their season beyond what the fans really want and what is really good for the game.  A six-month season might give you more opportunities to sell tickets and hot dogs, but compared to the revenue that a more attractive television package could bring if the game weren't oversaturated, in my opinion those sports are penny wise and pound foolish.

Baseball begins and ends its season in horrible baseball weather in the northern half of the country and Toronto.  This can be especially damaging to the most important part of the season, the playoffs.  Just when baseball needs decent weather the most, it gets it the least.  Basketball and hockey don't have weather issues, but they begin their seasons with general sports fans saying, "Already?"  They end their seasons with the same fans saying, "It's about time."

Sports fans rarely if ever say either of those two things about football.  You never want your product to be oversaturated.  Value plummets when supply exceeds demand.  You want to give the marketplace just the right amount of product, perhaps even a tad less, to keep the public's appetite healthy.

3)  Postseason

Along those same lines, the NFL's playoff system is second to none.  Each game is terminal and thus provides maximum drama.  All those seven-game series' hurt basketball and hockey in my opinion.  Game one, game two, game three, game four, alright already!  When is this playoff series finally going to be on the line?  I can give baseball an exception here because of pitching.  There is a huge variance in starting pitchers and a series is the proper way to go about things.  But basketball and hockey have no excuse.  The same people play games against the same people over and over again.

I realize you shouldn't have single terminal playoff games in basketball and hockey, but what I would do is set up a triple elimination tournament.  There would be a winners' bracket, a one-time loser's bracket and a two-time loser's bracket. Teams would play different teams all the time.  I believe the nation would embrace this kind of excitement and that TV ratings would skyrocket.   There would be fewer games played (28 total) than the current 105-game playoff fiasco, but if the NFL can rake in $4 billion of media revenue using an 11-game playoff system, doesn't it again prove that less is more?

The NFL is the model system in all of professional sports.  Good Lord, let's hope it doesn't change with the new bargaining talks.  If other sports were smart they would follow suit as much as possible and realize that gluttony, whether it be payroll disparity or just too many darn games, is not the best solution.

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