With its revenue, TV ratings and popularity continuing to grow unabated, the NFL is in its own galaxy compared to other sports leagues.
NFL games accounted for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts last fall, and a total of 37 games drew at least 20 million viewers each. A Harris poll taken earlier this year asked about 2,200 adults who follow at least one sport to name their favorite. Pro football was chosen by 36 percent of the respondents — nearly thrice the number who chose baseball and college football (13 percent apiece).
Commissioner Roger Goodell knows that competing TV programs are regularly crushed by NFL games, especially highly anticipated matchups. But whether Goodell is reluctant to battle for viewers or eager to promote civic engagement, he has rescheduled the league’s season opener from Sept. 6 to Sept. 5. By doing so, the NFL avoids a conflict with President Obama, scheduled to give his speech at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 6.
The only loser is Vice President Joe Biden, whose speech on Sept. 5 will be overshadowed by the game featuring the New York Giants, beginning their Super Bowl title defense, versus an opponent that hasn’t been announced yet.
This is the second consecutive year that politics and football have potentially butted heads, but Obama took the initiative last year. After changing the date of his joint session address to Congress in September when Republicans complained that he was stepping on a planned GOP debate, Obama changed the time, too. He moved up the speech by one hour in order to conclude in time for the 2011 opener between Green Bay and New Orleans.
This is also the second consecutive presidential cycle in which the NFL season opener became a topic. Fearful that the 2008 game between the Giants and Washington Redskins might cut into his audience, Sen. John McCain waited until it was over before delivering his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention.
Not surprisingly, at least one observer on the right has criticized the NFL for rescheduling to accommodate Obama, when it didn’t do the same for McCain (a Democratic official told the Charlotte Observer that neither the convention nor the Obama campaign requested the change).
The NFL regular season has started on a Thursday since 2002. The league said there hasn’t been a game on a Wednesday since Sept. 22, 1948. But while the NFL is king, Obama is the president. So there it is.