The NFL: The King of American Professional Sports

Creighton Abrams

Of the four major professional sports leagues in the United States, the NFL has the highest revenue despite having the shortest season with the fewest games. Pre pandemic, NHL revenue was approximately $5.09 billion, NBA revenue was approximately $8.76 billion, MLB, the oldest professional sport in America, was approximately $10.7 billion.

The NFL’s revenue was $16 billion. That is more than the NHL and NBA combined and 50% more than MLB. And the NFL gave up its tax-exempt status in 2015 due to the organization’s incredible success.

How is it so successful? There are many factors but two unique elements are revenue sharing and salary cap. Nearly two-thirds of NFL revenue is from TV contracts and that money is divided equally among every team. In addition, the teams have agreed to a cap on the total salaries they pay players. Both of those rules help establish parity among teams—every team gets a large pool of revenue, and no team can simply buy all the best players.

In addition, scarcity creates interest. Pro football teams play 17 games in the regular season over 18 weeks and another 3 or 4 in the playoffs if they are fortunate enough. The NHL regular season is 82 games, the NBA regular season is 82, and Major League Baseball is 162 games. Plus, the NHL, NBA, and MLB have multigame playoffs while every NFL playoff game is sudden death.

The NFL is the most American-centric sport of the four. Basketball and hockey have wide appeal globally and baseball is played internationally as well (though not as broadly as either basketball or hockey). Football is nearly exclusively American with some interest in Canada. The NFL is trying to generate a more global audience by playing games in other countries including Mexico, England, and Germany.

NFL revenue increased by 12% in 2021 with a goal of reaching $25 billion by 2027. As the NFL works to broaden its appeal and audience, it may rightfully earn the title of “King of all sports.”