By Barry Janoff
January 26, 2016: Over the past two seasons, the NFL has come under more public scrutiny than at any time in its history, with issues covering rules and regulations, domestic violence, child abuse and player health, the latter with a focus on head trauma brought into a bigger spotlight via the movie Concussion.
Over the past two seasons, the NFL has also continued to set the gold standard among sports in the U.S. regarding TV ratings, marketing and the power of its biggest game on the biggest stage, the Super Bowl.
During Super Bowl XLIX last February, won by the New England Patriots over the Seattle Seahawks, 28-24, NBC charged upward of $4.4 million for a 30-second spot and generated a Super Bowl broadcast record of $345.4 million, according to marketing, research and consulting firm Kantar Media, New York.
That was up from $331.8 million in TV ad revenue during the broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII (2014), when Fox charged upward of $4 million for 30-second spots.
TV ad revenue is projected to set a new record during Super Bowl 50, for which CBS has charged upward of $5 million for 30-second spots for the Feb. 7 game in Levi's Stadium (home for the San Francisco 49ers).
The past six Super Bowls "have been the most ad-saturated in history, each containing more than 47 minutes of commercial time," according to Kantar Media, a trend the company said is likely to continue in 2016.
Despite its on- and-off-field issues, pro football continues to reign as the most popular sport in America, two times more so than baseball and six times more popular than pro basketball and hockey, according to a new Harris Poll from Harris Interactive.
Pro football leads baseball by 18 percentage points, with 33% choosing pro football as their favorite sport and 15% selecting baseball.
Pro football also is the most popular sport among two demographics key to NFL alliances with companies and marketing partners, named by 48% of adults with household incomes between $75,000-$100,000, and 21% of adults with household incomes, according to The Harris Poll.
Since 1985, when The Harris Poll began studying trends among U.S. sports and people, pro football has increased in popularity by 9%, from being named in 1985 as their favorite sport by 24% of those surveyed to its current 33%.
Concurrently, pro baseball has dropped by 8% during that period, from being named in 1985 as their favorite sport by 23% of those surveyed to 15% in the new poll.
There are, however, some chinks in the NFL's armor. The NFL's 18 percentage point lead over MLB is up from last year (16) but down from 2013 (21) and from a high in 2011 (23).
Men's college football remains the third favorite sport among those surveyed, as it has dating back to 2004.
The advent of the College Football Playoff and CFP Championship, initiated in 2014, has helped the sport to maintain its popularity, but has not given it a boost. College football was named as the favorite by 10% of those surveyed, the same as 2014, but down from 11% in 2012 and 2013 and a high of 13% in 2011.
Auto racing, pro basketball and pro hockey are bunched together at Nos. 4, 5 and 6, respectively, in The Harris Poll, much as they have been since 2008.
The increasing amount of time that Tiger Woods has spent off the pro golf circuit, combined with the rise of such young golfers as Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, has only minimally impacted the popularity of the sport, based on The Harris Poll.
The NFL's 18 percentage point lead over MLB is up from last year (16) but down from 2013 (21) and from a high in 2011 (23).
Golf was named as the favorite by 3% of those surveyed, up from 2% in each of the previous five polls but down from 4% 2004-09, just good enough to rank No. 9 behind men's soccer (No. 7) and men's college hoops (No. 8).
Boxing fills out the Top Ten among favorite sports in The Harris Poll.
Tennis, even with such high-profile players as Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Maria Sharapova, continues to lag behind most other sports watched by fans in the U.S.
Men's tennis came in No. 17, women's tennis No. 19, the latter tied with women's golf in The Harris Poll.
The Harris Poll Top 20 Favorite Sports also includes swimming (No. 11), track & field (No. 12), horse racing (No. 14), women's soccer (No. 15), women's college basketball (No. 16), women's pro basketball (No. 17) and bowling (No. 18).
Among other findings:
• Pro baseball is most popular among people who live in the eastern U.S. (24%) and post-grads (23%) and least favorite among Millennials, those with kids in the household and those with household incomes below $35,000 (9% each).
• Gen Xers (17%) and post-grads (15%) are college football’s biggest fans, but least popular among Easterners (5%) and those with household incomes in the $35,000-$50,000 range (6%).
• Baby Boomers (10%), people in rural areas (10%) and people with household incomes below $35,000 (9%) are the biggest auto racing fans, but the sport is least followed by post-grads (1%), people with household incomes in the $75,000-$100,000 range (1% each) and Millennials (3%).
The Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the U.S. between Dec. 9-14, 2015, among 2,252 adults (aged 18 and over), of whom 1,510 follow at least one sport.
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