If the US Has a Monoculture, It Might Just Be the NFL

Broadcast data suggests America is watching a lot of football

NFL logo on a football
What is the nation watching on TV? The answer is overwhelmingly football.
Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Of the 100 most-watched television programs of last year, would you care to guess how many were not football games? Here’s a hint: you’d only need one hand to count them. The correct answer, for those keeping track at home, is four: the president’s State of the Union address, the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, the Academy Awards and whatever lucky show happens to have the timeslot immediately following the Super Bowl.

A closer look at the 96 football games in the top 100 reveals something else: the NFL is incredibly dominant in that field. 93 of the 96 games in question are NFL clashes; the remaining three involved college teams.

Those are among the takeaways from a recent analysis of broadcast data from Sportico. In other news, if football ever wanted to make a claim on the phrase “national pastime,” this might be the time for it.

Sportico’s analysis doesn’t stop there. It also points out that the NFL has been taking a steadily larger share of the top 100 spots over the years. Five years ago, it was at a mere 61 out of 100; last year, that number had risen to 82. Sportico goes on to note that the highest non-sports program based on this analysis was the season premiere of 60 Minutes, which placed 136th overall. No scripted shows made the top 200.

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Admittedly, some of this isn’t just about football becoming an even bigger deal; it also relates to live television being increasingly one of many options for many viewers. And it’s also worth noting that 2022 also featured some high-profile sporting events that don’t happen every year — namely, both the Olympics and the World Cup. It’s not hard to imagine that at least some of the Paris Olympics could retake a little ground from the NFL when these numbers are run next year.

Still, it speaks volumes to just how big of a deal the NFL has become in American life — and how it might just be one of the last bastions of a monoculture.

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