A recent poll by Harris Poll showed that professional football — the NFL — is the most popular sport in the United States. The sport was cited as the favorite by 36% of respondents (SBD 2012). This is up from 24% in 1985. The same poll noted a decline in the popularity of baseball that was almost as severe, that sport dropping from 23% support in 1985 to just 13% in 2011. Where there was little gap between the popularity of baseball and football, the increasing popularity of the latter combined with the decreasing popularity of the former has resulted in a 23 point spread between the two. The survey also showed that this trend is expected to increase. Baseball scored well in the 50-64 demo, which football gained in the 30-39 demo. Clearly, football skews younger, giving it more potential for growth than baseball has, with its aging fanbase. The only hope for baseball is its continued support among Hispanics, a rapidly-growing demographic (SBD 2012).
Other sources have also noted the surging popularity of football and the decline in popularity of baseball. There are a number of theories as to why these two sports — in the mid-80s sharing popularity — have diverged so much in that span. It seems that demographics are part of the story, but only part. Football has distinctly different elements as a game than baseball, being team-oriented rather than individual-oriented. It is a game played mainly by Americans, where baseball rosters today feature a large percentage of non-Americans. There is marketing, in which the NFL is known for its excellence. Also, the NFL is a violent game. This better suits the aggressive American temperament. As a nation, we have a history of violence, and a relatively passive sport no longer seems to appeal to our sensibilities. This paper is going to explore all of these different factors to try to identify the key drivers in the passing of the mantle of America’s most popular sport from baseball to professional football. It is believe that the violent nature of the sport is one of the most significant factors.
The game of football began life as rugby football, originated in the eponymous town in England, where the game evolved with carrying the ball, and throwing it backwards in order to advance the play towards the goal. This game was quite similar to modern rugby, and naturally transferred across the ocean. At the time, it was a game typically played at universities and colleges, and each one would have had its own version of the rules. This actually accounts for the differences between football and Canadian football, as that game was originated in the 1860s with slightly different rules but generally the same principle.
Walter Camp is credited with the founding of American football as differentiated from all other types (soccer, rugby, Aussie rules, etc.). He codified such defining elements of the game over a period in the 1870s, including the line of scrimmage, the snap and downs — there were initially three until 1912. The touchdown already existed at this point, being part of rugby. A rules committee presided over refinements to the rules of the game and Camp contributed to this committee until his death in 1924. The rules committee would eventually become the NCAA. The first professional player was William “Pudge” Heffelfinger, under contract in 1892 to the Allegheny Athletic Association for $500 for a game against the Pittsburgh Athletic Club (ACSU 2011).
Even during this period, football was violent game, as rugby had been. Many schools were forced to ban early football matches because they were so violent and unruly (ACSU 2011). The aggressiveness of the sport is said of have matched the mentality of the American people, at a time when the nation was still quite young, recovering from the Civil War, but also burgeoning under the Industrial Revolution and westward expansion. This was a big, bold time in American history and the rapid rise in popularity of football is said to have reflected that (ACSU 2011). The rise of baseball during this period — it was an earlier professional sport — reflects the availability of leisure time and the tentative first developments of the nation’s middle class.
Despite its popularity, football remained controversial. In 1905, President Roosevelt threatened to ban the game because it was so violent, and causing so many injuries to its participants (ACSU 2011). This threat spurred critical rules changes, including the development of the forward pass. By 1918 receivers could catch the ball anywhere on the field, bringing the game closer to what we see today. These changes made the game safer, but they also improved the quality of game play, increasing the sport’s popularity. The American Professional Football League, the precursor to the NFL, was founded in 1920 as the country’s first professional football league.
By this point, the game was more or less familiar to the modern audience. Football’s popularity increased with the advent of the Super Bowl in 1967, as a means of determining a national champion at a time when there were two leagues — the second being the American Football League. The Super Bowl was one of the conditions of the two leagues to stop competing and eventually merge. Football was already a popular television property at this time, albeit less popular than baseball, but the Super Bowl quickly established itself as a major sporting television property, setting the stage for the growth of the sport to new heights.
Another major issue that emerged in 1968 was that of the work stoppage. The NFL Players’ Association voted to strike, and was locked out by the owners, for only 11 days. The result was the sport’s first collective bargaining agreement. Subsequent work stoppages damaged the brand but were resolved quickly.
The trajectory of baseball is slightly different. The game developed into a major professional sport quickly, becoming the first of its kind. Baseball existed in two major leagues and a series of Negro Leagues in the first half of the 20th century before the sport finally desegregated. Baseball was the major sport in America for most of its existence, and it was only in the 1980s that this really changed. Baseball’s popularity was already in decline when the 1994 World Series was cancelled on account of a strike that started in the middle of the season. This cancellation and ongoing strike that stretched into the next season were catalysts for a further decline in popularity of baseball, as it was felt by many fans that with the cancelling of the World Series a sacrilege had been committed.
By this point, the Super Bowl was already the most popular televised event — sporting or otherwise, further cementing the rise to dominance of the National Football League. The rest of this paper will focus on the different factors that contributed to these different trajectories for the two sports.
Football has always been a violent sport, and this has long mirrored the American temperament. It can be argued that the rise of baseball was tied to an era of American growth and optimism, where perhaps the post-60s era has ushered in a new era of American culture. First, a look at sporting violence. Violent sport has always been popular in America, but there is an across-the-board rise in the popularity of violent sport in the past couple of decades. As the biggest sport, the NFL has been the primary beneficiary of that rise, moving from 24% to 36% of people claiming it as their favorite sport. Snyder (2013) does note that baseball is highly popular, even if not being many fans’ favorite. In this survey, the only other sports to increase in popularity over this time period are college football, auto racing (mainly NASCAR, known for its aggressiveness and crashes) and hockey. The non-violent sports, including baseball and basketball, all declined in popularity during this period (SBD 2012). This indicates a broader trend towards violent sports in America. While the popularity of college football and the NFL would naturally be correlated, and football is the most popular sport in NASCAR heartland, the inclusion of hockey on this list is significant because that rise is not related at all to football, nor does it take place in the South — it is not just a rise in the popularity of violent sport in the South but all over the country. Both hockey and NASCAR have regional roots that place constraints on their ability to gain a nationwide audience, but football has always had broad geographic appeal.
Deford (2012) notes that the dichotomy between “pastoral” baseball and “brutal” football has been widely observed, and that the shift in allegiances between these two games represents a shift in American culture. The demographics from the Harris poll support this theory, with the 30-39 demographic favoring football by a wide margin while baseball enjoys popularity with that generation’s parents. Deford also speculated at a gender explanation, that football is uniquely male in that there is really no female version of the game — its violence all but excludes it from gender neutrality. That view might not hold, however, in light of the fact that baseball is not played much by women and their equivalent, softball, is regarded as an amateur curiosity at best. Baseball may be more genteel, but it is not feminine in any meaningful way.
That all violent sports rose while non-violent sports fell in popularity seems to be a telling statistic, however. Violence in sports is something that brings with it entertainment value. In any football game, be it a blowout or a snoozefest, there will be moments of intensity and contact. This is not necessarily going to be the case in a non-violent sport. Just as there are big hits in every hockey game and crashes at every NASCAR race, there is a baseline appeal that violence brings to football that is attractive to fans. The attraction of consistently entertaining product has made the NFL so appealing that meaningless regular season games get a better television audience than a playoff game in baseball (Wells 2010).
A predilection for violence in sport is something that has been noted as correlating to America’s violent society. Violence is popular in all forms of entertainment — action movies, most video games but especially first person shooters (Thompson 2012). Television has become increasingly violent as well — the days when the cartoonish violence of the A-Team being subject of controversy are long gone. This is a country where you cannot pass a law to constrain the sale of military-grade weaponry to civilians, and where murder rates are the highest in the developed world. The country has a propensity towards consumption of violent entertainment that extends beyond sport. While statistics are not available, it is worth considering how much more violent American entertainment has become. Even when it is not overtly violent, it is more aggressive — consider the differences between metal and rap vs. The music of the baby boomers, and especially of their parents. Entertainment does seem to be trending towards increased aggression in American society in general.
This love of violence as entertainment is certainly not exclusive to America. The ancient Romans held gladiator battles for entertainment — they were the world’s leaders of their time, but also a violent society given to fits of dysfunction. America was founded by outcasts from their respective countries. Whether overtly violent or simple just so on account on being uneducated lower classes,
America was founded with a preference for violence. Slavery lasted longer than in other places, and cost hundreds of thousands of lives to end — in other countries they simply wrote a law and ended it. Ultimately, America started out as a relatively violent society and this trend has become stronger in recent years (Kozy 2013). There is little doubt that the rise of the NFL as the dominant sport has at least in part occurred because of the product, and its inherent appeal to the average American.
The maleness of the fanbase also cannot be ignored. Football is a uniquely ale institution, noted for its hypermasculinity and status as a “gladiator” sport (Welch 1997). Its rise since the 1960s to become the most popular sport in the country can be seen in the context of male response to a more gender-neutral world. While social changes have had a neutering effect on masculinity in most aspects of society, football has remained the violent, aggressive domain on the red-blooded American male. It is a sanctioned outlet for this sensibility, in a world where few such outlets remain. The rise in popularity of auto racing is probably explained by this phenomenon as well. Sunday (and Saturday as well) is one day a week where men can be men, with the ritual consumption of beer and snacks to go along with it.
The violence aspect also seems to signal a shift in American culture, or at least some tenuous correlation can be drawn. The NFL appeals to a demographic mixing Generation X and Millennials. This demographic has a different culture than the baby boomers who continue to favor baseball. While the boomers retain some of the 1960s optimism, and certainly the value on quieter things in life they inherited from their parents, younger generations inhabit a far more chaotic, disorganized and threatened world. This is a world where the bad guys can strike you at home, where your friends go to war halfway across the world, and almost as important where there is instant gratification at every turn. The last point might be the most important — after all the baby boomers went to Vietnam and lived under threat of nuclear annihilation so their world was not all peace and love.
Instant gratification in sport is provided in football. Every forty-five seconds, there will be another flurry on physicality, whereas excitement in baseball can take a long time to develop (Jack K. 2010). That is something that appeals to the younger generations, more media savvy and with somewhat shorter attention spans than their parents and grandparents, who were raised before the age of computers and cell phones. One of the reasons for this is that the NFL is a league with parity while baseball is not. In baseball, the wealthiest clubs spend absurd amounts of money to attract players, and in doing so create a hierarchy where a handful of the richest teams compete year after year, while other clubs have essentially no chance of making a run at a World Series (Jack K. 2010).
Parity and labor peace transcend generation, but they appeal to the American culture. Americans love underdogs, so small market teams being able to compete on even footing with large market teams is inherently appealing. This also means that NFL fans, no matter what team they support, will always have reason for optimism. This is not the case in baseball, something that has resulted in disenfranchised fans. This despite the fact that baseball has had more labor disputes than football. It cuts across generations — fans want everybody to have equality of opportunity because that is the American Dream, and they want to see stability and a well-run league. They get these things from the NFL to a degree that they do not from baseball. Note that baseball’s popularity is declining — people are losing interest in the sport.
Another culture value that is expressed as a difference between the two sports is that baseball is essentially an individual sport, where football is a team game. While baseball is played with teams, gameplay is structured as a series of individual acts, while in football strategy is set on a team basis. This allows every member of the football team to potentially be a star — lineman are frequently top draft picks, for example. While America has a highly individualistic culture, and loves its stars, individualism does not fit the profile of American aspiration. Americans aspire to a country where people work together. In the case of football, blacks and whites are working together in a coherent way for a common goal. This appeals more to the sense of society – it is what Americans want to see in their country. Aggressive, yes, but everybody working together to build a better team. Football teams are a metaphor for the country. Granted, baseball might be a more apt metaphor, but that is simply not how Americans see their country. There is no significant appetite for individual sports, even if there is for individual stars (Benoit 2012).
By Americans, For Americans
There is no doubt that baseball is America’s pastime, but it is not a wholly American sport anymore. Football, in contrast, is. This means something to fans, who prefer to have a connection with the players on the teams they support. This is not to say that there is a racial element, because that probably is not it, but that there is a degree of familiarity. That familiarity comes from two factors. The first is that the players are American in the NFL, because nobody else plays the game. That makes the sport wholly American, as much reflecting that the sport is aligned so closely with American culture that they are inseparable. This is not the case with baseball, which has a broader appeal. Only around 1% of NFL players are foreign, and two-thirds are African-American. Baseball has only 8.5% African-Americans, down from a quarter in the 1970s, which explains in part why African-Americans greatly prefer football — recall as well that in the 1970s African-Americans were not playing quarterback, the most important position. A major demographic group has swung massively in favor of football in the past forty years, not just in terms of being fans, but in terms of playing the game (Baxter 2011). Baseball has largely moved in the direction of foreign-born players, now at 28%. Foreigners in baseball were once rare, and probably Canadian, but now they are from all over Latin America, Asia and even Australia (Fox 2013). While this broadens the international appeal of baseball, it perhaps serve to reduce its appeal among American fans, who struggle to relate to foreign players, unless they are big stars.
The other reason why the football’s American players are an important selling points is that the fans know them already. Tied with baseball as the second-most popular sport is college football, the feeder system for the NFL. The NFL and NBA both enjoy this benefit, with their players building up recognizance before even entering the league. The NFL has this to a higher degree because most of its players come from a handful of major colleges – it is actually fairly easy to follow college football and get to know a lot of the players who are turning pro. This helps with marketing tremendously. How much of an impact this has, given that the NBA has not benefitted from this familiarity, is questionable but the steadfastly American nature of the game does seem to be self-reinforcing among the fans.
Of the other sports that have increased their popularity in the past thirty years, college football and NASCAR are also almost entirely dominated by Americans. The NHL of course is not, but at 5% is also not in the same class as those other three in terms of popularity. The NFL benefits from familiarity not just of the players on the field, but their back stories, and the entire system from which they came. Even high school football enjoys a high degree of popularity in many parts of the country, only further enhancing the overall popularity of football and the familiarity of the game. In a sense, football is also like a strange code. You have to be American to understand its rules and dynamics, and interpret the strategies. The learning curve is quite steep and foreigners have yet to really understand the game, even those familiar with the rugby from which it was originally developed.
The Super Bowl was developed in 1967 and this is probably around the same time that professional football began to make inroads on baseball in popularity. Football is a television-friendly game, and the Super Bowl an incredible spectacle. The changes in the game that were made at the behest of Theodore Roosevelt had improved the flow of the game, making it not only safer but also more entertaining (Greene 2012). Baseball, for its part, has remained unchanged for much of its history, save the designated hitter rule. But the story of television really isn’t about baseball and its lack of entertainment value, it is about football’s excellent use of the medium.
The NFL closely controls its television rights, and its telecasts. The telecasts are done to a consistent design where the NFL works tightly with partner networks. This ensures a consistent brand experience. Parity also plays a role in that, with the NFL designing a product that has remarkable consistency with teams being relatively equal, and the way that game is broadcast the same. The television experience is also focused around Sunday, making NFL viewing appointment viewing, capturing the market on a day when there might be little else to do. Monday Night Football added a new dimension and became an institution. Baseball lacks equivalency in this regard, as does any other sport for that matter. The NFL’s success has a lot to do with creating an entire culture around the games, by holding them on the same day of the week. Other sport lack this consistency, so you never know as a fan when your team might play, which constrains the fan base somewhat, to the diehards. The NFL appeals to anybody looking from something to do on a Sunday, a day when many Americans are looking for something to do.
The Super Bowl also moved ahead of the World Series as the marquee event in sports, in part because of extensive promotions. The game itself might be a blowout, but the Super Bowl is always an event. The single game format helps with this, but the NFL presents a full package including halftime show, and it encourages people to make an entire day of it. This is impossible with a World Series — the NFL essentially has a monopoly on the annual one-game title game, and it has leveraged this brilliantly to enhance its brand.
One of the biggest differences between baseball and football has been in the marketing. Some of the marketing comes down to the product factors noted above, but the reality is that baseball is still sold as a game that one watches at the stadium, whereas football is almost strictly a televised spectacle. Baseball teams have 80+ home dates per year and need to sell thousands of seats for each one. The focus is naturally on selling those seats, with the television production secondary. The large gaps in play where the pace of baseball slows are not friendly for television either. The decline of baseball started to come about when television became the dominant way that Americans consumed sports.
The NFL, on the other hand, is built for television. It has tidy quarterly divisions within the game, and the plays occur with regularity — just enough time for a replay and analysis of each one, which actually serves to increase viewer knowledge and engagement. This came about because NFL teams only have 8-9 home dates per year — television was always going to be a major source of revenue for the sport. Furthermore, revenue sharing has motivated the NFL clubs to produce a consistent television product to maximize national revenue; baseball clubs often sell television locally, which reduces the attention they pay to the television production and the money available for the production. Not surprisingly, baseball is more popular in places that have teams — football’s popularity is nationwide.
The television product for the NFL is an effective way of marketing the product. While different product attributes (pacing, parity, violence) seem to clearly influence the popularity of football, there are other marketing elements at work as well. As a distribution strategy, the NFL is focused on television. Baseball has television deals, of course, but is focused on selling tickets to the games. The reason for this split is simple. NFL stadiums average around 70,000 people and there are eight home games per year. This means that NFL teams need to sell 560,000 tickets per season. Baseball teams play in stadiums averaging 47,000 people, but play 82 home games per year, so they need to sell 3.854 million tickets per year. Baseball is naturally more oriented towards selling game-day tickets (Eckert 2014).
The problem is that this difference in how the two sports are consumed feeds football’s popularity. NFL tickets are more expensive, but most people consume it on television, for free. So while the price associated with a baseball ticket is fairly low — around $20 on average — that is still more than zero. Moreover, there is effort required to get to the stadium. Baseball remains popular in many cities that have an MLB team, but football attracts fans nationwide, because of television’s superior distribution and lower cost. Baseball could, in theory, replicate this, but chooses to focus on stadium ticket sales because that is where its capacity is.
With product, place and price on its side, the NFL has the foundation for marketing dominance. To complement this, it also excels at promotion, ensuring that each of its major events in particular drives its brand. Both the Super Bowl and Monday Night Football in particular come with “big game” atmosphere that other sports, with their long seasons, have a difficult time capturing. Further, while the NFL seems to be able to withstand its athlete’s scandals because they are typically related to off-field activities, baseball’s image has suffered from the steroid scandals, and MLB seems to have been able to find a way to recover from that blow to its public image. A game already seen as weighted in favor of big market clubs is also the home to legions of cheaters, and other sports have been able to capitalize on this.
Often cited as a major reason why football is more popular than baseball. This comes in several forms, including fantasy leagues and single game betting. Baseball is probably more suited to fantasy leagues, with its emphasis on statistics, but football benefits more from individual betting. The games are weekly, rather than daily, so are better suited for the casual bettor. In addition, most games are televised. People can watch once a week, and bet just on those games. Also, because Americans can easily become quite familiar with the teams and players, they might feel more confident about their bets. Parity only makes this more interesting.
The NFL is the biggest sports betting market in the U.S. By far. Figures from Nevada show that the NFL captures 40% of all sports betting, and is worth $1 billion in that state alone (Sung 2011). While the market is not large enough to be considered efficient (Sung 2011), it is large enough that there have been several studies will to test that hypothesis. It has further been noted that Americans have a specific preference for football in terms of betting. When the NFL season starts, bettors substitute football for the baseball betting they had engaged in all summer (Paul & Weinbach 2013). If the season were concurrent, baseball betting would actually be lower than it presently is.
Gambling has the effect of increasing viewer engagement, even when the bettor’s home team is not playing. This ties into the knowledge level of the sport. While it is relatively easy to learn about the teams in the NFL, because fans of college football will already know the players and because each game is televised, baseball lacks this, and thus has a steeper learning curve. Additionally, betting being illegal in most states, or at least controlled, in-stadium betting does not really exist. Betting on sports is best conducted at home. Statistics are more easily available as well at home, compared with at the stadium. Gambling and television, therefore, go hand in hand. The result is a high level of congruence between the made-for-television NFL production, gambling and popularity of the sport. Baseball, being focused more on the in-stadium experience, is less conducive to gambling.
Analysis of the Factors
Several factors have been identified as contributing to the popularity increase in football, as well as the popularity decrease in baseball. It is important to parse through this data and make sense of what factors are the most important, and driving this change. Some factors present fairly weak evidence, while other factors are perhaps more compelling. The studies on the popularity of football in particular note that it has risen steadily over the past three or four decades. Professional football was always popular, but it has ascended to a dominant position. This trend in popularity corresponds closely with two factors. The first is the demographic factor, and the second is the refinement of the televised product by the NFL.
The role of television cannot be understated. The surveys that show professional football to be the nation’s most popular sport are taken with samples spanning the entire country. While baseball, football and basketball have nationwide appeal, they differ in terms of their distribution. The NFL in particular has excelled at getting distribution on television. It creates signature events that draw eyeballs to the game. The Super Bowl is one of the few sporting events that draws a large number of non-sports fans. On Super Bowl Sunday, there is hardly anything else to do, as the game has become one of winter’s biggest social events. Monday Night Football was another similar innovation, but even the “three games on a Sunday” structure provides appointment viewing, albeit to a more die-hard audience. Having a signature event like the Super Bowl that can introduce new fans to the game is a critical factor in the growth of the NFL. The World Series used to play that role for baseball, but requires more viewer engagement, was cancelled in 1994, and too often features the same handful of team, all factors that reduce its visibility to non-fans.
The other major factor in the growth of professional football is the demographic factor. There are two distinct components to this — race and tastes. The increasing numbers of African-American players has increased the popularity of football, and the fact that the race barrier at quarterback has been broken must also contribute to the rise of the sport’s popularity among African-Americans. Baseball has declined significantly among this demographic, in part because there are fewer high profile black players. The rise of players from Latin America has changed the demographic audience of baseball. While Latinos are a growing group in the U.S., this has translated more into a rejection of baseball than greater acceptance. That football is still a purely American sport seems to have some inherent appeal, backed statistics showing growth in auto racing as well, given that most auto racing in the U.S. is conducted by Americans. But football has dramatically increased its appeal to African-American audiences over the past few decades, and almost all of this growth seems to be coming directly at the expense of baseball.
Tastes are also a factor in the shift towards professional football. This is one of the strongest elements in the shift, because the four most violent sports are the only ones that have increased in popularity in the past three decades, and all of the non-violent sports have seen a decline or flatlining of popularity in that time. This combines with demographic data that shows football skews to a younger audience, and baseball to an older one. Baseball’s passive nature reflects the values of baby boomers and their parents, whereas the faster pace and harsher economic realities faced by Generation X and Millennials unsurprisingly has them more attuned to aggressive entertainment forms. All manner of aggressive entertainment, from action movies to violent video games, has proven popular with these generations, and their tastes in sport are no different. Professional football being the biggest of these sports, and the best-marketed, has naturally captured the bulk of the gains to be made from this societal shift to aggression as entertainment.
America has always had an aggressive underpinning to its culture. It was always the culture of the big, brave and bold. Violence has been a feature of the country since colonization. It is only natural, therefore, that violence has become a popular pastime across all entertainment forms. Football was always a violent sport. When baseball was developing as a pastoral game in the late 1800s, football was controversial for its violence, and faced bans on several occasions, including from President Roosevelt. The game evolved by reducing its violence just enough to be accepted in American society, but no more.
The result is that it remains a brutal game today, and that is a large part of its appeal. There are many elements of professional football that make for good entertainment and in particular for good television, and brutality is chief among them. Every play features physical contact, and the viewer is aware of this. The spectacle of violence is ever-present, and this is one of the game’s big attractions.
Another vice, gambling, seems to be an important part of football’s rise. While arguably baseball, with its emphasis on statistics, is better-suited for gambling, football’s position as a sport consumed in the home seems to support gambling even better. Certainly, the higher knowledge that casual fans seem to have gives them more confidence in betting, and the result is that the NFL is by far the leading sport for betting in the U.S. Gambling, broad distribution via television and parity among teams are all factor that make football more universally appealing than other sports — anyone in America can be engaged by a football game. This contrasts sharply with baseball, where the emphasis remains for rather pragmatic reasons on selling tickets in the stadium, versus drawing a large television audience.
The inherent American-ness of professional football also seems to hold appeal. Americans prefer team sports, and football is most certainly that. They also have a preference for sports played by Americans. Football, indeed, is that. As a sport played by African-Americans in particular, football has been able to win millions of African-American fans away from baseball, contributing to the starkness of the shift in popularity between these two sports.
At its heart, though, the American-ness of football is best captured by its violent nature, and the fact that nobody else in the world understands the game. Baseball and basketball were invented in the U.S. As well, but they are played widely around the world. American football remains a mystery to other countries. Its violence is not always a turnoff, but its complexity can be. Moreover, it is a cultural experience, based on big games and major television events. Watching football is a shared pastime, fostering weekly ritual among its fans. This ritual is American in nature, and in that an expression of American culture. It is actually no different to the way that Europeans watch soccer — Americans do not really partake of that ritual and therefore the sport has little resonance here.
Football has basically supplanted baseball not only in terms of its popularity, but in how it is the sporting expression of American culture. Its aggression is part of that appeal, but professional football has tapped into the love of sporting ritual as well, perhaps to a greater degree than any other sport. By combining the innate cultural appeal of professional football as the expression of American culture with great marketing, the NFL has been able to propel itself into an undisputed position as the most popular sport in America.
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