The NFL and the NBA are two of the biggest sports leagues in the world, and are easily the biggest sports leagues in the USA. They are two historic leagues, with the NFL being 101 years old and the NBA being 75 years old. They dominate the US market, but one tends to dominate slightly more than the other.
Is the NBA bigger than the NFL? It is not easy to say that one league is bigger than the other, but if you look at different financial and viewer based metrics, the NFL still appears to be the bigger league. It is difficult to give a definitive answer, due to the different formatting and structures of both leagues.
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The NFL runs a 17 game season, with any given team playing a maximum of 25 games in a season, including pre season and the playoffs. Whereas the NBA has a regular season of 82 games, with a potential maximum of 28 additional games in the playoffs. This makes NFL fame much more of an event because it is rarer and the NFL advertises it that way. Therefore it can be difficult to properly compare viewership between the two leagues.
How is the NFL bigger than the NBA?
The first metric you really need to look at when trying to decide who is bigger would be the revenue of both leagues. Both make money in the same ways, through ticket sales, TV deals, sponsorships and jersey sales are just some of the ways in which both leagues make money. But looking at 2020, the NFL had a league revenue of $12B, a $4B loss compared to the previous year. This is of course mainly due to the effects of the Coronavirus, that prevented most fans attending any games. This revenue stat was still higher than the NBA for the 2019-2020 season, where they totalled a league revenue of $7.92B. So just based purely on the revenue of the two leagues, you would say the NFL is bigger. The money side also is dominated by NFL teams compared to NBA teams. The most valuable sports team in the world according to Forbes is the Dallas Cowboys, being worth $700M more than the most valuable NBA team, the New York Knicks. There are only 3 NBA teams in the top 20 most valuable sports teams in the world, with the NFL having 8. The NFL just seems to have a lot more money than the NBA. The NFL has a higher sponsorship revenue, by around $200m.
The NBAs current TV deal secures the league around $2.6B per year, with the NBA also hoping for a big increase soon. Whereas, earlier this year the NFL announced a brand new 11 year deal with CBS,Fox,NBC,ESPN and Amazon that would net the company $113B over the span of the deal, netting the NFL on average $10.27B per year, over four times more than the deal the NBA has right now.
The NFL is also leading the NBA in viewership, in fact, the NFL dominates the NBA in viewership. The average 2020 NFL regular season game averages about 15.4 million viewers. In the NBA, you have to go all the way back to the 2019 finals for an NBA game to have higher than 15.4 million viewers, with game six and seven in those finals only averaging 18.3 million viewers. If you compare the NBA finals to the Superbowl it is a similar story. Super Bowl LV attracted 96.4 million viewers. It may be harsh to compare the two, as the Superbowl is a much bigger event than any single game in the NBA finals. It may be slightly fairer to compare the total viewership for the NBA finals and the Super Bowl . If you do this, the margins become a lot closer, but the 2021 Finals was still lower viewed than the Superbowl when you add all of the viewership up. The viewership was around 59 million viewers, still giving a large advantage to the Superbowl.
Why is the NFL bigger?
The NFL is a much more historic league when compared to the NBA, being formed in 1920. It is not necessarily that the NFL is any better than the NBA, the NBA just has a big disadvantage which is that American Football is the favourite sport of 37% of Americans, compared to only 11% for basketball. It is a big disadvantage that is difficult to overcome. The NBA won’t have the same history that the NFL does, and this makes it much less popular. The NBA also can’t do much to change the opinion of Americans on basketball, so they may have to be better than the NFL in different ways.
Is the NBA catching up to the NFL?
You do have to say that the NBA is catching up to the NFL. The NBA is mainly doing this around the globe, especially in China. The NBA plays pre-season games in China as well as playing games in London. The NBA has a worldwide advantage that basketball is a much more worldwide sport and contains high quality players from countries like Australia, France and Nigeria. The NFL is also allowing the NBA to catch up due to some poor decision making. The game is inherently injury prone and is continuing to change to increase player safety. It is no surprise that more and more parents are getting their children into basketball over football, as basketball produces much less injuries.
The NFL is definitely bigger than the NBA, just by plainly looking at the numbers. But the throne that the NFL sits on may be under some pressure, as the NBA continues to improve.