This was supposed to be the NFL’s week. American football, the sport that has the deepest cultural pull of any sport in the U.S., has been busy taking over more of peoples’ lives. Sunday football wasn’t enough, so decades ago, they added one game on a Monday night. It was brilliant because people talked about that one game all week. We recently finished some playoffs that spanned both Saturdays and Sundays. The National Football League also has added Thursday night games, reaching an agreement today with Fox to support those games.
The NFL Draft was once an afterthought, scheduled when no one was watching, and most people gave it a pass. But the league has played this up so much now that the draft anticipation is incredible; people are doing mock draft predictions up to one year in advance. Scouting of secondary school talent has reached a fever pitch. Now even during the offseason, the league makes a point of scheduling something regularly to keep the talk going; it might be the release of the upcoming year’s schedule or the deadline to sign free agents. Whatever the NFL does, it keeps people watching and talking. When the season comes, people can’t wait to tune in and support those advertisers.
It’s a weeklong, yearlong, 24/7 source of entertainment.
And that does not even include Fantasy Sports or gambling, which both grow each year. Fantasy football has spread like wildfire in the last few years to the point where there’s someone in every office and every bar talking about his team. Gambling is half the reason the NFL exists, though no one likes to admit it. This week alone, there are estimates that Americans will place $4.76 Billion worth of wagers on Sunday’s Super Bowl. That may not even factor in online gambling, 95% of which is illegal in the U.S. and generally handled by offshore entities.
Sports Betting. Source: Creative Commons via Flickr by ghoseb.
And this is football’s big week. The Superbowl, the NFL’s championship game, will be played on Sunday. This year, the game matches up the perennial favorite New England Patriots with the surprisingly good (even though they are missing a starting quarterback) Philadelphia Eagles. In preparation for the Superbowl, the NFL schedules two weeks between the previous round of playoff games and the big game itself.
That two weeks provides enough time for media members and other hangers on to reach the destination city and be ready for the game. Once upon a time, Superbowls were played each year in Miami and New Orleans, some of the most southerly (and therefore desirably warm) places to visit this time of year. Now, the NFL rotates the game and often uses it as a rewards for cities that invest in new stadiums. This year’s Superbowl ended up in one of the coldest places one can imagine, Minneapolis.
The two week lead-up to the Superbowl is anchored by an event that takes place the beginning of Superbowl week. It’s called Media Day. The coaches and some players are forced to come out of hibernation and answer some questions from the media. After all, they are entertainers, and the media needs more things to write about, so give those reporters some juicy quotes. In most years, Media Day is a little wacky. There are some crazy radio hosts who have media badges and get in, often asking some outlandish questions. There have been dancers, strippers, and people in various stages of drew or undress. It’s an opportunity to get some attention.
SuperBowl Media Days of the past: a little wilder. Source: si.com
This year, with media budgets limited, the number of people was smaller at media day. Those who went reported that it was more serious than usual and with fewer of the colorful entertainers and radio hosts showing up. Perhaps they didn’t feel like going to Minnesota in the wintertime.
Media Day should be a big deal. It should dominate the sports news. There should be enough quotable quotes and reportable actions to keep the American sports media occupied with stories for the next few days, leading up to the big game on Sunday.
But a funny thing happened this year. The next morning, the NFL ended up in second place. All of the Superbowl Media Day stories were one rung below the lead story, which was about basketball. The Los Angeles Clippers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) traded a star (even if he’s an overrated one). They sent Blake Griffin to the Detroit Pistons in a multi-player exchange.
Source: NBC Sports.
Blake Griffin is a power forward, the kind of player who would have been great in the 1970s. It’s not his fault that he is not as mobile as most of the NBA’s best performers in this era, but he’s still a very, very good layer and perhaps Detroit will be a good enough fit that he can excel in new ways.
So an NBA trade scooped the NFL’s Media Day coverage, bumping it to second fiddle. And there we can see the flippening of America’s favorite sport. The NFL has been king for a very long time. But the demographic of its fans is aging. Younger people are not as engaged with football as their parents were. Slowly, basketball is taking over as America’s most deeply rooted cultural sport and it's quite well liked outside the U.S. also. It has a long ways to go, but we can see that trajectory as a probable outcome.
The NFL has had a lot of problems recently. The brain trauma that players are suffering in this violent sport has caught the attention of medical experts. A disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) has been found to be prevalent among former players and it’s eating their brains. Some players have quit while they are young so they don’t have more head trauma.
There are former players and game announcers who now say they will not let their own kids play football.
Then there have been PR flaps in the way the league has dealt with cases involving players who are alleged to have committed crimes and domestic abuse. And there is the flag protest that has involved some players sitting (not standing) while the National Anthem is played before each game. Some fans on either side of this issue have boycotted the games.
Basketball, meanwhile, is a sensation that continues to grow. The most recognizable U.S. sports players around the world tend to be our basketball players (of course, the teams are smaller than in many other sports). It’s on TV all the time, more often than football. The basketball stars stand out and they are quite popular. If a Blake Griffin trade can knock the NFL off the top position on sports media during SuperBowl week, we are seeing something new.
Barring some change, I see football fading in the coming years as the talent pool shrinks and more pro athletes are drawn to other sports. Personally, unless two good teams are playing, I find most NFL games to be unwatchable these days due to the frequent breaks and penalties. Meanwhile, basketball continues to surge in popularity.
Source: NBA King of Court 2.
If this continues, the flippening is coming. Football cannot remain king. Stay tuned.
Mock Drafts are almost year-round: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2756898-nfl-draft-2018-1st-round-mock-draft-as-super-bowl-52-approaches
Griffin trade that dominated headlines: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/22258464/blake-griffin-los-angeles-clippers-talks-traded-detroit-pistons
NFL Thursday Night Fox Deal: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000912686/article/nfl-fox-sports-reach-thursday-night-football-agreement
Top image: NFL