But even that forking understates football’s dominion over television. As viewers have learned to time-shift their favorite shows, where they can skip over ads, the value of a live event has soared. The cost of securing exclusive rights to live sports events have gone up for just about every athletic activity under the sun. But whereas ratings for baseball and other sports have stagnated, the NFL’s ratings have grown. Indeed, they could be the keystone holding together the wobbly arch of pay-TV. Years into the recovery, young people are still resisting the pull of television. TV viewership among every age demographic under 55 is down between 12 and 16 percent since 2009, according to analysis from MoffettNathanson. Without the allure of live sports, the cable bundle might unravel.
As Kevin Clark wrote, the NFL runs the television business, the advertising business, and the attention business. It’s unfair to compare football to the movie industry, the music industry, or any other pop culture industry, because nothing channels eyeballs like football. If the number of people watching the Super Bowl this year had to buy a $10 movie ticket to watch the NFL’s title game, that movie’s domestic box office would be higher than The Avengers and Frozen—combined. Today, the NFL is comparable to the rest of pop culture the way a skyscraper is a part of a strip mall.