Why the NFL Expanded its Lead
Yes, the NFL dominates but how did it gain on everyone else in the era?
Last week, Sports Media Watch listed the 50 most viewed sporting events of 2022, with the reveal that 45 of them are NFL games. Three of the others were college football games, and the other two (Olympics, World Cup) were boosted by adjacent NFL games on the same channel. So, all told, we could say football went 50-of-50 and the NFL actually claimed 47-of-50 spots. On the same day, Sportico added that 82 of the top 100 shows of any kind were NFL games.
The common response from media members was that football is King in America, so this is all expected. Some of this was said almost mournfully, as it happened in the aftermath of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin nearly losing his life on the gridiron. We Americans are simply addicted to this bloody spectacle, no matter the cost, and that’s all there is to know really.
But that broad assessment fails to answer certain big questions. Because, while football has been the most popular American sport for decades, it’s suddenly claimed even more of the nation’s market share. So, why did the NFL get more popular, relatively, in the social media age? How did it head off the NBA’s LeBron era ascent? What was the NFL doing that its competitors weren’t?
I have an answer to that question, one that just might be counterintuitive. It’s not a story of a visionary company’s innovation or discovery, but really quite the opposite. It’s a tale of something I’m calling Last Mover Advantage, a dynamic by which a leading brand increases its edge, just by standing still.