Column: Move aside, NFL — there’s a new king in town

Posted on Jan 26 2018 - 7:56am by Jack Bitterman

Think back four years ago to 7:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and picture what your family was doing. I am willing to bet that at least one of your family members is glued to the television watching America’s greatest spectacle, Sunday Night Football.

At that time, football was king in America. With Sunday and Monday Night Football consistently drawing some of the highest viewership ratings in the nation, the NFL owned primetime slots.

Jump forward to Sunday, Dec. 31, 2017, a day without Sunday Night Football.

I was sitting on the couch at 8 p.m. and flipped over to NBC. To my surprise, I couldn’t find Al Michaels or Cris Collinsworth anywhere. I was baffled. It was only after my mom informed me that the broadcast had been cancelled that I stopped my search. My first assumption was that inclement weather or a power outage forced the game’s cancellation. However, a brief Google search showed that the game was cancelled simply because the NFL didn’t think that anyone would watch it. Yikes.

In fairness, the season finale typically ends with two playoff contenders, and while the NFL hadn’t yet decided which teams would play in the Sunday night game, none met the criteria for a high-profile matchup. It was also New Year’s Eve, which would likely draw fewer eyeballs than usual, being a night where American’s watch historically little TV. Nonetheless, overall NFL viewership has been down across all time slots all season, with Monday Night Football finishing 2017 at its lowest average viewership ever.

Who would have thought that the NFL would ever lack confidence in its ability to draw eyeballs?

That being said, the real issue with the ratings lies not in the fact that they are low but in the inability to agree on why they are so.

Each and every person has his or her own rationale for why the numbers are down, ranging from national anthem protests, to the dangers of the sport itself, even to the market saturation with how much the NFL pushes its content. The one thing that most people seem to overlook, however, is the emergence of new sports markets challenging the stranglehold the NFL once held in terms of market dominance.

On the same New Year’s Eve without Sunday Night Football, the NBA had a slate of eight games that featured close matchups between rivalry teams like the Mavericks and Thunder followed by young talent Lonzo Ball challenging seasoned all-stars like James Harden.

The NBA this past year revolutionized its league in the offseason. Taking it back to a time that many hark as the glory days, super-teams now feature star players (who used to carry teams alone) joined by others hailed as all-stars to make a run at the title. While the NFL is faltering, the NBA is coming into its own with a cast of established elite players joining forces to take on previously infallible dynasties, and young players like Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons showcasing the talents that will keep people watching for years. For example, Lauri Markkanen is making Bulls basketball, which would otherwise be intolerable, a decent spectacle to watch while doing homework or have on in the background after a long day.

Now, to be clear, nobody is saying that the NFL is going to evaporate in the near future, but where the NFL is losing viewership, the NBA is coming into its own in a way that resembles the days of Bird and Magic, Jordan and Pippen, and Shaq and Kobe.

There’s soon to be a new king in town – the National Basketball Association.