NFL vs. NBA: Which League Has The Edge?

Get ready sports fans, Roger Goodell and Adam Silver are going to lose the ties, lace up the gloves and go at it in the ring. No, not really, though that probably would be pretty funny to watch. How could one compare the NFL to the NBA, you might ask? Well, cross-sport comparisons are always tricky. But with an objective eye and a deft touch of analysis, one can find some very salient points for either side.

For those of you who trade in realities and not potentialities, it wouldn't take long to come up with a 'winner' of this debate. If current money value is the defining standard by which you define success, then as of now the NFL is the clear winner. The NFL has 32 teams valued at an average of $1.17 billion per team, for a total of $37.44 billion. The NBA has 30 teams valued at $634 million on average for a total of $19.02 billion. For some people, that information would be all that is needed to drop the gavel of judgment. Dive a bit deeper into the depths of this comparison and the decision doesn't seem so clear cut.


6 International Appeal

From a North American perspective, the NFL seems to loom large in our minds as the juggernaut of both excitement and monetary success. Zoom out to a worldview, and suddenly American football shrinks in comparison to the popularity of basketball. Measuring international sport popularity is a tricky business, given the variation in metrics used to define 'popularity'.

Unequivocally, soccer (football) is ranked #1 most popular sport in the world without much dispute. Where the sports fall in line thereafter is very fluid. From the many lists I've seen, basketball tends to fall in the 2nd-5th range of most popular sports, where American football tends to go anywhere between the 9th-15th and sometimes lower. Internationally, many countries have national basketball teams who compete in the Olympics. American football isn't currently an Olympic sport, and given the lack of international participation, it seems that it's a long way away, if ever.

5 Future Growth Potential


Three words that mean everything to analysts everywhere. This is where the NBA has the chance to throw its' hay-maker. The international appeal differential means NBA's growth potential far outweighs the NFL's. Superstars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant travel overseas and fans come out in droves for the chance to see them at sponsored events. Aaron Rodgers could probably travel overseas to many countries without anyone recognizing him.

At the beginning of the 2013 season, a record 92 players from 39 countries all over the world were playing in the NBA. Not only is this an impressive chunk of active NBA players, but many of them are thriving to superstar status, such as NBA champions Dirk Nowitzki and Tony Parker. For the people of these international countries to see their hometown heroes succeed gives the game a enormous platform for growth, with young people around the world learning the game with the belief that they too can succeed.

Alternatively, the NFL's foray into international markets with NFL Europe was a sobering failure. It lasted 16 years from 1991 to 2007 and never truly got off the ground. It was closed due to the fact that it lost around $30 million per season active. Now with a more conservative approach of having a few games played in England per season, it's clear the NFL is being more cautious. NFL owners know now just how far there is to go before American football can even begin to get a foothold in many overseas markets.

4 Format

Arguably, this is more of a gray area of discussion. Do you prefer less games with more riding on them, or more games for more day-to-day action and entertainment? Undoubtedly, when it comes to playoffs, NFL has a far more entertaining format. Playoffs in the NFL is something special, because truly only the best teams make it in, and every game could go either way given the one-game format. Given the fact that teams can change so much from year to year, and small sample sizes (16 game season) can lead to absolutely fascinating outcomes, I believe the NFL's format is hard to beat.

Humans value scarcity, plain and simple. The less opportunities there are, the more they are worth. The unpredictability and excitement an NFL game affords is second to none. Sure, 82 game seasons in the NBA allow high numbers of ticket sales and plenty for fans to watch, but the playoffs lack the same edge due to a lack of truly surprising outcomes. Almost always over a 7-game series, the more talented team will always win in basketball.      

3 Parity           


This is something of a no-brainer, but to me it's such an important issue that it deserves its own category. Obviously, this is a runaway victory for the NFL.

One could argue that parity might be the single strongest contributing factor to the NFL's success. Year after year, pundits are proven wrong, preseason predictions get hurled out the window by week three, and unheralded heroes rise from obscurity to become football gods. The gripping unpredictability of the NFL is what keeps fans filling up stadiums even after years of being in the doldrums. Maybe a controversial trade, a first-round pick, or college football superstar will find his way onto your team, and you will watch in fervent anticipation of who that player will become.

I might go so far as to say that if the NBA had a history of parity and unpredictability the way the NFL has, I believe this article wouldn't even be something worth writing because the NBA would be the undisputed number one.

2 Accessibility

If you boil everything down to its most fundamental component, the game itself, both football and basketball are fast-paced, exciting physical and mental tests of prowess. However, basketball is worlds more accessible to the everyman, for a few reasons:

1. You can practice by yourself, or play with any number of players.

2. It can be played indoors, outdoors, and it is far easier to organize a game.

3. (And most importantly) it has just the 'right' amount of physicality to make it challenging, exciting, but not a possible trip to the hospital every time you play.

The reality is, the NFL is currently facing a class-action lawsuit of more than 4,800 former players regarding concussions and brain damage. It's an issue so huge, that judges denied the $765 million settlement that was proposed in 2013. It's an issue they still do not know how to combat, with controversy in the game over helmet-to-helmet contact and concussion protocols for players, from pee-wee all the way up to the NFL. There's isn't much risk of that when your practicing your crossover against your neighbor on a driveway hoop.

Brett Favre is one of many players saying they don't want their sons playing football because of the physical dangers it imposes. Former QB Jim McMahon is something of a cautionary tale for those looking into football history. His struggles with short-term memory loss are well documented and terrifying to hear about, and he was diagnosed with early-stage dementia in 2012 at the age of 53. You won't see Lebron forbidding his sons from picking up the rock from a young age. For anyone analyzing these games, the violence issue is not something to be taken lightly when comparing these games' futures.



Net Worth


International Appeal


Growth Potential








1 Conclusion


Don't worry, I'm not calling any ties. It may be 3 to 3 by my measurements, but I intend on picking a winner. The defining factor to me is the value of each of the categories. In my opinion, the NBA edges out the NFL due to the most important factor: growth potential.

As a dyed-in-the-wool NFL super-fan, it kills me to rule in the favor of the NBA. Don't get me wrong, I have a personal passion for basketball, but nothing beats football on Sundays for me.

Objectively, if you remove any personal bias, I think the real single facet that pushes NBA over the edge isn't just the international involvement in the game, but the success of international involvement. The fact that these foreign players are having profound effects on the history of basketball in the past two decades is an indication of wild growth for NBA in the future. Ever since the famous 1996 USA dream team put on a basketball show for the world, the NBA was destined to experience a meteoric rise in the future. I don't believe we've yet seen the ceiling of that upward climb. Don't agree with me? check back with me in twenty years and one of us can I-told-you-so.


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