Predicting the death of American football is fool’s errand. With $9.5 billion in revenue in 2012, the NFL is far and away the most profitable professional sports league in the United States. But its status at the pinnacle of the American sporting scene is not preordained. It may be top of the heap today, but will it last? There is a scenario, not entirely implausible, in which football is toppled from its perch. And there is a parallel that shows us how the process of decline may take place: boxing.
Though boxing today may be a niche sport at best, able to attract hardcore fans willing to pay pay-per-view rates for big fights, it was once a sporting juggernaut. The early twentieth century saw the “sweet science” grow, aided significantly by the rise of newspapers and radio. Fights attracted huge audiences and the sport was one of the most popular in the U.S. in the early twentieth century. The decline of the sport from the days of Jack Dempsey to today’s struggle to achieve widespread recognition is decade’s long. The decline has been brought about by two main factors:
- A leadership more inclined to sweep problems under the rug than to deal with them head-on (in boxing’s case, the allegations of corruption and general seaminess that have long dogged the sport).
- Changing attitudes about violence that led fans away from pugilistic combat and to sports with more controlled violence.
Sound familiar? It should, because these are two of the main issues facing football today.