In Playing Through Pandemic, the NFL Wins Again (or at Least Loses the Least)

The league reportedly missed out on $3 billion to $4 billion in revenue this season

In Playing Through Pandemic, the NFL Wins Again (or at Least Loses the Least)
Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs wears a face shield as he calls plays.
Harry How/Getty Images

Outside of a few big winners like Amazon and Tesla, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit nearly every major business in America in the wallet to some degree.

The National Football League is no different, with each of the league’s 32 teams reportedly losing about $100 million thanks to playing a season with largely empty stadiums.

As a whole, the NFL missed out on $3 billion to $4 billion by playing in the pandemic, but those losses, in addition to being manageable, also pale in comparison to what other pro leagues lost by pushing through their seasons, at least percentage-wise.

Remember, the NBA was forced to pause its season for months and resorted to going to a bubble in Florida in order to finish it out at a cost of nearly $200 million.  As a result, the NBA came in $1.5 billion under revenue projections. That’s less money than the NFL lost, but the NBA also is not the moneymaker that pro football is.

Last season, the NFL brought in about $16 billion. The NBA? Less than $10 billion. And MLB, which posted $2.8 billion to $3 billion in operational losses this year raked in $10.7 billion in 2019. (They aren’t really on the same playing field, but MLS lost $1 billion due to the pandemic, and the NCAA lost out on $800 million after being forced to cancel the annual March Madness tournament.)

As those figures illustrate, the NFL may have lost the most money overall, but, based on how much cash the league makes, it is also taking the smallest hit.

The biggest reason the NFL was able to avoid a disaster is the majority of the league’s revenue tied to national TV contracts. So as long as the league was able to play all of its games — which it did — that income stream would not be disrupted. And, even with TV ratings down seven percent during the regular season, the NFL was still more popular with viewers than anything else on television, including the NBA and MLB.

“It was a huge financial hit for us this year, no question about it,” New York Giants co-owner John Mara said, according to The Associated Press. “But it’s not going to affect our ability to be active in free agency or to do what we have to do to improve the team. Hopefully this is a one-year thing and we’ll be able to have fans back in the building next season.”

Even if they aren’t back, the NFL is going to be just fine — despite losing billions. There aren’t too many other businesses in America that can say that.

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