Thursday night’s season opener produced only 23 points, and not much drama. But that only makes the size of the television audience more amazing.
A mind-boggling 27.5 million viewers tuned in for the Vikings-Saints game, giving the NFL its biggest prime-time audience in 14 years. In New Orleans, the game generated a rating of 60.0, higher than the 56.3 rating in New Orleans for Super Bowl XLIV.
Coming on the heels of a pair of NBC preseason games that set viewership records and that ranked as the top shows of their respective weeks, pro football once again has demonstrated its dominance of the American sports landscape.
At a time when the NFL and the players’ union are inching closer to a potential work stoppage in 2011 (although the news of potential decertification of the union could make that far less likely), all parties should be taking a close look at the current popularity of the game — and they should ask themselves whether and to what extent they wish to risk the same kind of decline that baseball and hockey experienced after a lengthy strike and lockout, respectively.
For now, the goose is firing out golden eggs faster than a machine gun with a hair trigger. Though the NFL can weather a short-term storm better than other sports, the current debate regarding whether the players will take a smaller piece in the hopes of eating from a larger pie overlooks the reality is that the pie will, to a certain extent, shrink if our obsession for football becomes interrupted by the perceived or actual greed of the current stewards of the game.