The good, the bad and the ugly

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The good

Despite the headaches NFL league officials have encountered due to myriad players being arrested and the heated concussion lawsuit that has hung over the league over the past half-decade, the NFL could not be more popular and its popularity continues to grow every year.  

To put it into perspective, the 2014 Super Bowl averaged 112.2 million viewers while Game 7 of the World Series this year totaled 23.52 million viewers according to The Hollywood Reporter and that Super Bowl was the most watched program in U.S. history.

According to Businessweek, in 2013, 34 of the top 35 most-watched programs on television were NFL games and the league’s total revenue sits around $9.2 billion annually.  For all the criticism that commissioner Roger Goodell endures daily, his salary is just north of $44 million a year.

While rises in TV ratings suggest that more fans are staying home rather than actually attending the games, that is far from the case.  Well besides the Jaguars, whose stadium resembles a ghost town most of the time.

The average attendance for a game is 67,509, while the average stadium capacity 68,280 is nearly sold out every game.  Considering the average NFL ticket price is around $275, it is quite remarkable.

What the NFL has succeeded with most is keeping their league on everyone’s mind year round.  The NFL has done an incredible job of spacing out their offseason so there is always something for the fans to be focused on.

Once the season concludes, draft season is immediately in full force.  It begins with the Senior Bowl, featuring the best senior prospects from around the country and then there is the NFL Scouting Combine.  The NFL has turned the combine into a national spectacle, broadcasting live on NFL Network in mid-February.

Fans of the NFL have become consumed with the draft process as draft analysts release mock drafts constantly, making fans giddy about the prospects of drafting players to get them closer to the Lombardi Trophy.  But before the draft actually takes place, there is free agency.

Free agency does not create quite the same amount of buzz as draft season, but it attracts the attention of all fans as they hope their team signs one of the premier veteran free agents in early March.

After months of speculation and constant media coverage, the draft finally takes place at the end of April.  Although the draft is easily the most exciting period of the offseason, it is far from the end of the excitement.

The weekend after the draft, rookie minicamps begin, giving fans the chance to get their first look at the rookies.  Several minicamps, with veterans and rookies, are held up until training camp begins in late July, which carries into the preseason.  Through all of this, the NFL has created a continuous cycle that is rivaled by no other sport.

The NFL’s willingness to consider options galore to improve the game to appeal to wider audiences is one of the main reasons the league is so successful.  Sunday’s matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Jacksonville Jaguars will be the third game played in London so far this year and several owners and Goodell have been pushing for there to be a franchise in London as soon as 2020.

Among other considerations to increase interest and revenue, the NFL has explored lengthening the regular season, expanding the playoff field, eliminating extra points and changing the format of overtime periods to resemble the current NCAA overtime format.

As history has proven over the past two-plus decades, the NFL is by far the most popular sport in America by a wide margin that continues to increase.  While the negative attention the league has endured over the past few years is disturbing, the NFL continues to weave through adversity and grow into an 11-figure business.