America and football are about as synonymous as UCSB students and partying. The NFL has become so deeply ingrained into American culture that the Super Bowl has become a national holiday, and even traditional holidays such as Thanksgiving are commonly centered around “the game” for many families. Statistically, the sports industry has never seen an economic powerhouse like the NFL before, with its annual revenue coming in at roughly $13 billion.
Regardless of its clear-cut dominance in viewership and revenue, NFL ratings are down. The recent political controversies surrounding the sport have been nothing but bad news for fans, players and owners across the country. In contrast to these issues, the NBA and its players have procured a huge growth in interest worldwide. The NBA will surpass the NFL as America’s most popular sport within the next five years.
When it comes to modern-day popularity contests, the first place to look is social media clout. The NFL Network and NBArank of ESPN both recently came out with a list of the top 100 players for 2018. The top 10 NFL stars on the list have an accumulated 14.4 million followers on Instagram, with Tom Brady having the most on the list at 4.2 million followers. The top 10 ranked NBA players, on the other hand, have a staggering 107 million instagram followers in total. LeBron James himself has nearly three times the amount of followers as the top 10 NFL superstars combined.
In a culture full of icons and celebrities, the NBA simply has more enticing characters that the fans want to keep up to date with.
The enormous margin between the NFL and NBA on social media attests to the idea that fans already find basketball to be their favorite sport. NBA players have created personal brands that allow the fans to be more connected to the game, and because of that the blue checks are stacking up enormously compared to the media presence of NFL stars.
Heck, J.R. Smith’s Hennessy memes and Carmelo Anthony’s hoodie are getting more air time on the internet than NFL stars nowadays. The future of all entertainment is in the development of social media, and the NBA is clearly dominating that sector.
Perhaps the biggest problem leading to the NFL’s demise is the prevalence of not only season-ending injuries but also life-ending injuries. Repetitive brain trauma has been proven to result in violent mood swings, depression and many other cognitive difficulties.
Aaron Hernandez, a former tight-end for the New England Patriots, was convicted for the murder of Odin Lloyd and eventually hung himself in prison at the age of 27 years old. He had severe and late stages of CTE in his brain. His family is now suing the Patriots and the NFL on the grounds that they “were fully aware of the damage that could be inflicted from repetitive impact injuries and failed to disclose, treat or protect him from the dangers of such damage.” Brain damage of players in the NFL is an epidemic, one that will take away from the game in a multitude of ways.
One of the medical pioneers of CTE, Dr. Bennet Omalu, spoke with NFL personnel who told him, “If 10 percent of mothers in this country would perceive football as a dangerous sport, that is the end of football.” Even now we see that former players are speaking out against their kids playing the game, such as Troy Aikman, who was quoted on HBO saying: “If I had a 10-year-old boy, I don’t know that I’d be real inclined to encourage him to go play football, in light of what we are learning from head injury.”
In response to this health crisis, the NFL has altered the rules of the game significantly over the years, but this in itself is a problem. More penalties slow the flow of the game, alter the outcome in a non-competitive way and eliminate the intrinsic excitement of violence in the fans’ and players’ beloved game. In the NBA, the worst injuries in recent history were those of Gordon Hayward or Shaun Livingston, who are both back on the court ready to compete for a championship this upcoming season with little to no lifelong damage to their bodies.
Many of those concerned for the health of their son or daughter are going to be more than willing to put them on a basketball court and extremely fearful of letting them get hit on the football field. In a world that is becoming increasingly less tolerant and less attracted to violence, basketball is becoming the most viable athletic option for both the families and the players.
Let’s face it, this country is dedicated to the people who are getting paid, and NBA players are getting paid by the likes of which we have never seen before. In Forbes’ list of the top 100 richest athletes in the world, there are 40 NBA players and just a mere 16 who represent the NFL.
Not only are contracts for playing basketball at an all-time high, but NBA players are also signing much larger endorsements. This means they have become significantly more valuable to companies’ public image and ability to sell products due to their popularity.
In 2018, LeBron James will receive $52 million and Steph Curry will pull in $42 million from endorsements. This is more than they will make from their basketball contracts. The top endorsed NFL players are Drew Brees with $11 million and Eli Manning with $8 million — a fraction of what NBA superstars are making annually. The brand image of NBA players have hit an all-time high because the popularity of basketball is increasing rapidly worldwide. Even when Madden 2018 was being advertised this past year, they used NBA players James Harden and Chris Paul in the commercial promoting it. Oh, and according to Forbes, “NBA 2k18” just hit a new record of over 10 million copies sold, ranking it the number seven bestselling game of the year, whereas “Madden” didn’t even make the top 10. Companies are utilizing this newfound popularity to boost their company’s sales and are leaving NFL players out because they aren’t what’s “hot” right now. NBA players are taking business into their own hands as well, as seen in the pinnacle of business-minded athletes such as Michael Jordan, who is worth $1.4 billion and is now the world’s richest athlete ever. Basketball players are not just playing sports; they are creating companies and becoming ubiquitous in corporate advertising— all of which promote the status of the NBA.
NBA players are redefining pop culture in a way that the NFL is not. Politically, the NBA has always been at the forefront of progressive ideas, whether it be the Golden State Warriors boycotting the White House visit, LeBron James’s infamous tweet toward Trump or the countless philanthropic charities and donations made by players all over the league. The NFL, on the other hand, has refused to give roster slots to Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid for “standing” up against police brutality, yet it continues to provide careers for countless players charged with sexual assault, domestic violence and DUIs.
NBA players also stay active in the entertainment industry outside of basketball, from the newest collaboration of Dame Dolla and Lil Wayne to Kyrie Irving’s new movie “Uncle Drew” to even more serious ventures like LeBron James’s new docuseries called “Shut Up and Dribble.” They are constantly using their charismatic personalities to enter other fields of the entertainment industry, and this trend is only going upwards from here. Fashion is probably the most influenced by NBA players as well. Brands like Jordan, Nike and Adidas all flock to NBA stars to push athletic gear off their shelves. Even Lavar Ball’s antics have allowed Big Baller Brand to reach a cult following in the fashion industry globally. After all, when’s the last time you bought anything from Tom Brady’s brand? You haven’t. Basketball players have always held a fun-loving stereotype, which has left us with stylish shoes, hilarious memes, countless rap songs and, most importantly, strong role models. The NFL sells itself as a logo and rarely contributes to life outside of the realm of football.
If I had to invest in one of them, I would put my money into the NBA every time.
A version of this story appeared on p. 7 of the September 20, 2018, edition of the Daily Nexus.