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.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the NFL solidified its dominance as America’s top spectator sport and its important role in American culture. The Super Bowl became an unofficial national holiday and the top-rated TV program most years. Monday Night Football, which first aired in 1970, brought in high ratings by mixing sports and entertainment. Rule changes in the late 1970s ensured a fast-paced game with lots of passing to attract the casual fan.
The World Football League was the first post-merger challenge to the NFL’s dominance, and in 1974, successfully lured some top NFL talent to its league and prompted a few rules changes in the NFL. However, financial problems led the league to fold halfway through its 1975 season. Two teams, the Birmingham Vulcans and Memphis Southmen, made unsuccessful efforts to move from the WFL to the NFL.
The founding of the United States Football League in the early 1980s was the biggest challenge to the NFL in the post-merger era. The USFL was a well-financed competitor with big-name players and a national television contract. However, the USFL failed to make money and folded after three years. The USFL filed a successful anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, but the remedies were minimal, and mismanagement (most notably, a planned move of its niche spring football season to a head-to-head competition in the fall) led to the league’s collapse.
2001 saw the establishment of the XFL, an attempt by Vince McMahon and NBC, which had lost the NFL broadcast rights for that year, to compete with the league; the XFL folded after just one season. Unlike the WFL and USFL, the XFL had no impact on the NFL’s rules or franchise locations (its attempts at innovations were often ridiculed), but a few NFL players used the XFL to relaunch their careers. The United Football League, which began play in 2009, had originally planned to take a direct challenge to the NFL with NFL-comparable salaries and teams in New York City and Los Angeles, but the UFL never did play in those cities (an ostensibly New York team played in Long Island and New Jersey), cut back its salaries, and instead opted for a complementary approach with teams in cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando and Hartford. Several other upstart leagues (such as the AAFL, UNGL, and New USFL) are also planned, but they have all been set back by financial and organizational problems, and none have taken the field yet; all of these proposed leagues will play in the spring and have no plans to compete with the NFL, either for talent or for fans.
On August 31, 2007, a story in USA Today unveiled the first changes to the league’s shield logo since 1970, which took effect with the 2008 season. The redesign reduced the number of stars in the logo from 23 (which were found not to have a meaning beyond being decorative) to eight (for each of the league’s divisions), repositioned the football in the manner of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, and changed the NFL letters to a straight, serifed font. The redesign was created with television and digital media, along with clothing, in mind. The shield logo itself dates back to the 1940s.
they formed, the American Professional Football Conference, was mostly an informal agreement to play a common schedule and name a champion at the end of each season of play. Teams were allowed to play games outside of the league, and membership was fluid in the early years. Two years later, the league renamed itself the National Football League. Only two teams currently in the NFL, the Decatur Staleys (now the Chicago Bears) and the Chicago Cardinals (now the Arizona Cardinals), are founding members.
League membership gradually stabilized throughout the 1920s and 1930s as the league adopted progressively more formal organization. The first official championship game was held in 1933. The NFL stopped signing black players in 1927 but reintegrated in 1946 following World War II. Other changes followed after the war; the office of league President evolved into the more powerful Commissioner post, mirroring a similar move in Major League Baseball. Teams became more financially viable, the last team folding in 1952. By 1958, when that season’s NFL championship game became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played”, the NFL was on its way to becoming one of the most popular sports leagues in the United States.
The rival American Football League was founded in 1959. It was very successful, and forced a merger with the older NFL that resulted in a greatly expanded league and the creation of the Super Bowl, which has become the most-watched annual sporting event in the United States. The league continued to expand to its current size of 32 teams. A series of labor agreements during the 1990s and increasingly large television contracts has helped keep the league one of the most profitable and the only major league in the U.S. since 1990 to avoid a major work stoppage
“NFL” redirects here. For other uses, see NFL (disambiguation). For other leagues of the same name, see National Football League (disambiguation).
The National Football League (NFL) is the highest level of professional American football in the United States. It was formed by eleven teams in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, with the league changing its name to the National Football League in 1922. The league currently consists of thirty-two teams from the United States. The league is divided evenly into two conferences — the American Football Conference (AFC) and National Football Conference (NFC), and each conference has four divisions that have four teams each, for a total of 16 teams in each conference. The NFL is organized as an unincorporated 501(c) association, a federal nonprofit designation for tax-exempt professional football leagues,comprised of its 32 teams. The NFL is by far the most attended domestic sports league in the world by average attendance per game, with 67,509 fans per game in the latest regular season (2009).
The regular season is a seventeen-week schedule during which each team plays sixteen games and has one bye week. The season currently starts on the Thursday night in the first full week of September (the Thursday after Labor Day) and runs weekly to late December or early January. At the end of each regular season, six teams from each conference (at least one from each division) play in the NFL playoffs, a twelve-team single-elimination tournament that culminates with the championship game, known as the Super Bowl. This game is held at a pre-selected site which is usually a city that hosts an NFL team.