Following mini-camps in the spring and officially recognized training camp in July–August, NFL teams typically play four exhibition games from early August through early September. Each team hosts two games of the four. The exhibition season begins with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game, so those two teams play five exhibition games each. Historically, the American Bowl(s) were played prior to the NFL scheduling regular season games abroad and those teams faced this similar predicament.
The games are useful for new players who are not used to playing in front of very large crowds. Management often uses the games to evaluate newly signed players. Veteran starters will generally play only for about a quarter of each game to minimize the risk of injury. Several lawsuits have been brought by fans, against the policy of including exhibition games in season-ticket packages at regular season prices, but none have so far been very successful.
While baseball is known as “America’s national pastime,” football is the most popular sport in the United States. According to the Harris Poll, professional football moved ahead of baseball as the fans’ favorite in 1965, during the emergence of the NFL’s challenger, the American Football League, as a major professional football league. Football has remained America’s favorite sport ever since. In a Harris Poll conducted in 2008, the NFL was the favorite sport of as many people (30%) as the combined total of the next three professional sports – baseball (15%), auto racing (10%), and hockey (5%).Additionally, football’s American television viewership ratings now surpass those of other sports, although football season comprises far fewer games than the seasons of other sports.
However, the Harris Poll only allows one unaided selection of a “favorite sport.” Other studies and polls such as the ESPN Sports Poll and the studies released by the Associated Press (AP) and conducted by Nye Lavalle’s Sports Marketing Group (SMG) from 1988 to 2004, show far higher levels of popularity for NFL football since they list from thirty to over 100 sports that each respondent must rate. According to the AP, the SMG polls from 1988 to 2004 show NFL football to be the most popular spectator sport in America. The AP stated that “In the most detailed survey ever of America’s sports tastes” researching “114 spectator sports they might attend, follow on television or radio or read about in newspapers or magazines, the NFL topped all sports with 39 percent of Americans saying they loved it or considered it one of their favorites.” The total percentage of Americans who liked or loved NFL Football exceeds 60% of the American Public. In a 2003 study conducted by SMG and released by the AP, the NFL was loved or liked a lot by 42.8% of Americans over 18.
The NFL has the highest per-game attendance of any domestic professional sports league in the world. However, the NFL’s overall attendance is only approximately 20% of Major League Baseball, due to the latter’s longer schedule (162-game scheduled regular season).
A 2007 Turnkey Sports & Entertainment’s Team Brand Index for “team loyalty” ranked NFL teams in twelve of the top twenty-five spots out of 122 total between the four major sports leagues. The Pittsburgh Steelers and their fanbase had the top spot, while the New England Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts had the following two spots, followed by the New Orleans Saints at number seven and the Green Bay Packers and their fanbase ranked at number ten. The Arizona Cardinals finished last in the entire survey of 122 teams, though the survey was taken before the team’s appearance against the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII.