No slowing world’s richest league as another NFL season gets underway
From safety issues over head injuries to racism issues over a team nickname, off-field controversy cannot stop the financial juggernaut that is the National Football League.
The world’s richest sports league, the NFL boasts an estimated US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) in annual revenues and a combined value for its 32 teams of $45.76 bn, according to Forbes magazine, which last month boosted the average estimated value of an NFL club 23 per cent to $1.43bn, the biggest one-year increase in 15 years.
Record-setting television contracts secure half the income, while lucrative sponsorship deals, ticket and merchandise sales have pushed the profit line.
Games have stretched beyond traditional Sunday and Monday affairs to Thursdays, avoiding competition with high-school games on Friday and college-dominated Saturdays, and ratings remain high.
The top-rated US TV programme in two of the past three years was the NFL’s Sunday night telecast.
The NFL season opened last night with the defending champions, the Seattle Seahawks, playing host to the Green Bay Packers. Super Bowl adverts cost $4m for 30 seconds, but expose 110 million viewers to sales-pitch messages, many of them specially crafted for the big game.
The Super Bowl has become something of an American holiday, with viewing parties across the nation becoming commonplace as the sporting culture has evolved to push the NFL past baseball as the most popular American sport.
Major League Baseball teams average $811m, according to Forbes, with a dream top 20 of European football clubs averaging a value of $1.05bn, eclipsing almost every other sport league around the globe.
But they fall short of the NFL, whose bottom-eight clubs – the least-valued 25 per cent of teams – are the only ones worth less than that average for what US fans call “soccer”.
While some controversy lingers over such matters as the Washington Redskins’ nickname, perceived to be an insult to Native Americans, and NFL players being arrested for domestic violence even after a league crackdown on such matters, fans across the US and a growing number around the world are ready for some football, American style.
The NFL was accused of turning a blind eye to concussion issues by former players, but settled a lawsuit with them, after an original cap of $765m was waived by the league after concerns it would not be enough to settle all claims.
After facing widespread criticism over a too-lenient policy requiring a two-game ban for players involved in domestic-violence issues, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell toughened bans for such conduct, including the possibility of a lifetime ban for repeat offenders.
Within three days, San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on domestic violence charges, seemingly set to be the first test of the new policy.
Redskins owner Dan Snyder has refused to change the team’s nickname and the league has backed his position, although a federal court ruling stripping the team’s trademark for being racist could change matters.
“I stand by the Native Americans and what they want. That’s what we want,” Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III said. “I can’t really focus on that. I’m a football player and here to play quarterback for the Washington Redskins until someone tells me that we have a different name.”
The ruling is under appeal, but if eventually upheld, would force a name change or cost each team income, thanks to revenue sharing.
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Updated: September 4, 2014 04:00 AM