ESPN's Tuesday Morning Quarterback Calls Football 'More Popular Than Hollywood'
"Football is more popular than Hollywood," according to ESPN columnist and contributing editor of The Atlantic Gregg Easterbrook, in the latest edition of his column, "Tuesday Morning Quarterback," published weekly during the National Football League season.
Defining Hollywood as "the producers of mainstream, primetime television, many of which are Hollywood studios," he cited Nielsen ratings that saw playoff games or pre-game shows taking nine of the 10 top-rated, single telecast shows for 2011. Only the Academy Awards was able to break football's near-monopoly on the top spots.
"What people watch on television for free, the thing that's doing the best right now is pro football," Easterbrook told The Hollywood Reporter.
Among regularly scheduled primetime shows, NBC's Sunday Night Football placed third overall, behind only American Idol. ESPN's Monday Night Football reigned as the most popular show -- sports or otherwise -- on cable.
"Football has passed baseball many times over as a subject of national obsession. We're a sports-obsessed society, which why is America the only country in the world that is obsessed with football. I think it's the game that appeals to our national character," Easterbrook said.
The game, in both its televised NFL and NCAA incarnations, represents the best and worst of America, he said, including "affluence and the ability to stage complex events," but also "violent images and superficial sexual images."
He rejected the notion of baseball as the national pastime, calling it, despite baseball's popularity, "a 19th century game." "Football is a 21st century game: it's expensive, big, wild and sexy."
Despite the sport's current high ratings, Easterbrook has warned in his column that football's large audience is not guaranteed.
"My big concern there is no law of physics that says that football has to be so popular, no law of nature," he said. "It could reach a saturation point -- it could happen. The NFL was talking about going to 18 games, I'm really glad they didn't."
"At some point people will say we're sick of this, that point is always out there, pride always cometh before a fall," Easterbrook said.
The NFL could potentially extend that large viewership overseas, the way the National Basketball Association (NBA) has, but that it would be an uphill climb, even with NFL games, both exhibition and regular season, being played in the United Kingdom, Canada and Mexico.
"The NBA, for all of its good and bad, they're presenting a sport that is played everywhere in the world, everywhere in the world kids shoot baskets," he said.
"People choose one or maybe two sports to follow -- and Europe has already chosen soccer," he said.
Easterbrook is currently writing a book on the relationship between football and American society, specifically "what's good and what needs fixing," due out in 2013.