Published on July 27, 2015 by Graham Lehman  

As the start of team’s training camps ticks closer, television networks such as CBS and FOX are rejoicing that once again the National Football League will soon be back to save them.

With the rise of internet options for viewing entertainment such as HBO and Netflix, traditional television network powerhouses have been feeling the effects as they see viewership ratings fall during the NFL offseason. While many Americans have in fact switched to non-traditional viewing options, traditional cable networks still do have a firm grasp on America with professional football.

NFL’s Dominate Reach

This grasp is so dominate, that a 2013 study conducted by Nielsen shows that nine of the top ten television programs of 2013 were National Football League games (Nielsen). In addition, the next most viewed primetime television programs during the year were pre-game and post-game shows discussing the NFL. (Taube). As these studies show, America is infatuated with professional football. However as the figures below indicate, the same passion that exists for football is decreasing or simply non-comparable for the other major U.S. sports.

Number of Television Viewers of Four Major U.S. Sports**
League 2011 2012 2013 2014
NFL 136,361,000 146,066,000 138,653,000 130,295,000
MLB 107,798,000 108,550,000 101,668,000 98,982,000
NBA 73,003,000 80,967,000 68,451,000 70,029,000
NHL 55,764,000 47,905,000 54,216,000 55,012,000

*Source: SBRnet/Tag: Frequent
**Total Number of Fans Viewing Games on TV

While the NFL has seen a drop off following 2012, a trend common in Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association, it still enjoys thirty million more viewers during the season than the closest competitor the MLB. These figures are especially significant due the NFL season having only sixteen regular season games as compared to one hundred and sixty-two in the MLB. While the number of NFL viewers is staggering, the statistics have far greater implications for television networks.

Advertising Impact

With such high volume of viewers and a limited supply of games, companies jump at the chance to advertise NFL games as compared to other sporting events, and will pay large sums to have these advertisements shown during a playoff game let alone the Super Bowl. Networks such as CBS and FOX realize this and understand its importance, which explains the 1,120 commercials broadcasted during playoff games in January, a tremendous 112 per game (Gordon). With so many commercial options shown throughout the season, and a guaranteed large audience to see them, brands invest millions in advertising packages through major networks, funding networks like CBS and FOX. These slots get even more vital during the Super Bowl, where in 2013 a thirty-second advertising slot cost on average four million dollars (Taube). In addition, these networks use almost twenty percent of these advertising times during games to promote themselves, hopefully increasing viewership for their networks during the NFL’s offseason.

As with the majority of America, major television networks love the NFL. The twenty-two week complete season including the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl is the golden period for networks in terms of viewership for their channels and sales from advertising. The short season brings in more viewers than the NBA and NHL combined, and is a lifesaver for networks as America moves toward non-traditional entertainment viewing. The season in turn brings in billions of dollars in advertising for networks that they simply cannot generate anywhere else. In short, television needs the NFL more than it needs anything else, and will continue to rely on it as technology ever-changes the entertainment world.

This blog was written by Samford University student Graham Lehman.


Gordon, Aaron. Sports on Earth. “The Advertising Football League.” Retrieved from:

Nielsen SocialGuide. Nielsen. “Tops of 2013: TV and Social Media.” Retrieved from:

Taube, Aaron. Business Insider. “Astonishing Chart Shows How the NFL Dominates TV Ratings.” Retrieved from: