Steinberg: NFL is national pastime

September 15, 2012|By Leigh Steinberg

When I was a child growing up in the 1950s, Major League Baseball was the national pastime. Baseball dominated media sports coverage.

But that is no longer the case.

The extraordinary shift is confirmed by the television Nielsen ratings for Sept. 3-9. The NBC coverage of last week's Steeler-Bronco game had 27.5 million viewers and was the top-rated show. The second-rated show was NBC coverage of the Cowboy-Giant Wednesday night game with almost 24 million viewers.

The third rated show was NBC's Sunday pregame show with an audience of 20 million. The fourth rated show was NBC's pregame show preceding the Wednesday night football with almost 19 million viewers. Rounding out the top five was Football Night in America with 13 million viewers. The No. 7 seven rated show was NFL Opening Kickoff with an audience of 10 million. That means the top five shows and six of the top seven were all football on NBC.


By comparison, two high rating perennial shows like "America's Got Talent" had nine million viewers and "Two and a Half Men" had six. When six of the top seven rated entertainment options on television – matched against the best entertainment that the 300 stations and cable options that Hollywood and other sports have to offer – are NFL games or pre-games, something fundamental has shifted in America.

How did this dramatic shift occur? Television and the NFL evolved together since the 60s into a marriage made in heaven. The multiple cameras, sound, highlights, instant replay, slow motion and other novel production techniques used in NFL coverage captivated a large audience. NFL Films, led by the combined genius of Ed and Steve Sabol, innovated the combination of music and highlights. This became the norm on local news and ESPN.

Direct TV enables viewers to watch all the Sunday games, with compelling features that move the audience from highlight to highlight.

The NFL Network features a variety of NFL content.

A sport like baseball has slower rythyms. It is an experience passed down from fathers to sons which needs history and statistics to be fully enjoyed. The more leisurely pace of baseball still has millions of dedicated fans, but the NFL has passed it by.

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