In the current “fall season” — to the extent such a thing even exists anymore — 13 of the 14 most-watched TV shows have been NFL games. The only non-NFL program that makes the top 15 is Two and a Half Men.
Why is the NFL so popular? For one thing, it’s the perfect American game. The NFL emphasizes speed, color, and violence — lots of violence — with a few cheerleaders thrown in. It’s an exciting game (at least it is if you aren’t watching the Browns), filled with crackling big hits and spinning runs and tremendous athleticism that get the blood pounding. And lately the NFL has gotten savvier. It’s marketed to men and women, and to every demographic type. I’m sure the marketing effort has contributed to the popularity of pro football, too.
But there is one other thing that has given pro football a big edge over the regular network programming. The programming wizards at CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox have to worry about competition from HBO, Showtime, TNT, AMC, and many other cable channels that produce original sitcoms and dramas and reality shows — precisely the kind of programming that you used to be able to see only on network TV. The NFL, by contrast, has no competition.
HBO isn’t going to out out and create a new pro football league to compete with Monday Night Football. If you want to watch pro football — and millions of Americans crave it every autumn weekend — the NFL is the only game in town, regardless of which channel it is broadcast on.