Why is college football so popular?

LSU v Florida State
American Football is the most popular sport in the US

There isn't a doubt that American football is the most popular sport in the U.S. A Gallup poll from 2019 found that 37% of Americans say that football is their favorite sport, which is miles ahead of baseball or basketball. While the NFL has a slight edge over college football, the collegiate side of the game has undeniable appeal.

Truth be told, college sports are an abnormality in the global sports industry. Nowhere else in the world do university-level sports instill the passions that collegiate sports generate in the U.S.

There isn't any other university-level competition in the world that is as profitable as the NCAA, and the lion's share of profit comes from college football.

Exploring college football's popularity in the U.S.

Kirby Smart kisses the trophy after Georgia beat TCU
Kirby Smart kisses the trophy after Georgia beat TCU

The USA is an enormous country, where every region and even almost every state has its own set of cultural traditions. Sadly, that isn't wholly represented in the professional sports leagues. Not every state can be represented in the limited format of pro sports.

That's where the appeal of college football mainly stems from its ability to represent particular communities. Some states might have several schools participating, representing very different communities. Think Auburn University and the University of Alabama, the University of Miami, Florida State and the University of Florida.

A college sports fan feels more directly associated with their local school team than an NFL pro team. A connection more akin to what Europeans might feel for their local soccer team than the one fans might have with the commercial American sports franchises.

That's another important point: the volubility of sports franchises sometimes means they aren't the most appropriate vessels to carry traditions forward. On the other hand, schools thrive on their customs and history.

College football has been a part of American culture for nearly 150 years, predating many professional sports leagues. It is also the highest level of amateur competition in American football, with student-athletes playing for the pride of their schools.

Lastly, but not less important, schools have a steady stream of fans from all over the nation in the form of their alumni. No other sports teams can claim a steady stream of new fans every year like college teams can.

College sports and identity are a staple of campuses across America, and it is a good bet that an important number of those attending school will become fans of its teams.

Teams like Alabama fill giant stadiums like the Bryant-Denny Stadium in small communities like Tuscaloosa
Teams like Alabama fill giant stadiums like the Bryant-Denny Stadium in small communities like Tuscaloosa

This explains occurrences like how the University of Arkansas consistently fills its 76,000 Donald W. Reynolds stadium while being located in Fayetteville, a town of 95,000 or so residents. People from all over the state and the nation come to see their former school play.

Support from famous alumni is also widespread, such as donations from NFL legend Payton Manning to his alma mater, the University of Tennessee, or the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to the University of Arkansas.

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