Catch or No Catch: Football is the United States’ binge-watching sport of choice

We live in a society. No, wait, that’s a stupid way to start a column. 

We live in a binge-watching society. There — that’s much better.

But seriously, we do. I’d hypothesize that it started some time around the rise of digital streaming in the early 2010s when everyone found out Netflix was a thing. Since then, we haven’t looked back. We said goodbye to recording shows we couldn’t catch live; we dumped our cable boxes in the trash; we stopped consuming our favorite shows episodically. 

We started scarfing entire seasons down in a single sitting. Hell, sometimes we scarf down an entire show, and not just those HBO limited series (as good as they are). We abandoned our healthy media consumption diets in lieu of binge-eating — er, binge-watching — and nothing was the same.

The only things that we had left to catch live on television were news and sports. And we already know the consequences of binge-watching cable news — just ask voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania (just kidding, I love my Midwestern fam).

All that leaves for live television is sports, and considering stagnated or falling overnight ratings in nearly all major sports leagues over the past several years, that’s not even a lock anymore. 

But there is still one sport that has fans foaming more than a pack of wild dogs for a piece of red meat: football. Duh-duh-duh-duh, da-na da-na! Duh-duh-duh-duh, da-na da-na! For those of you who didn’t get that, that’s ESPN’s Monday Night Football theme. For those of you who did … get outside, dude. 

Despite the sheer volume of well-researched and evidence-based hoopla surrounding football and its long-term physical and mental consequences, the sport is doing better than ever. Important college football games rank among the highest-rated cable presentations each year, and NFL ratings have soared since a brief decline two seasons ago.

What’s driving this boost? A dedicated fanbase with a hunger for more and, simply, better marketing of its stars. College football fans were so thirsty for the start of the season that this year’s season opener between the Miami Hurricanes and the Florida Gators was ESPN’s highest-rated game since 2016. In fact, football fans are so thirsty for football year-round that the WWE’s Vince McMahon thinks a spring football league will be financially viable as soon as February 2020.

Still, for the rest of you well-adjusted fans, there’s March Madness. March Madness’ popularity continues to rise, and it’s not hard to understand why. Your coworkers and friends may boast of their stamina and bad habits during the month of March, but, for many football fans, that’s every weekend from September until the Super Bowl. Every Saturday and Sunday, college and professional football dominate.

The craziest part? This happened long before streaming was a thing. Football has been America’s binge-watching sport for a while (if you’ve ever noticed the faction of drunk men and women in football jerseys on the weekends).

NFL Sunday Ticket, which allows fans to catch every single out-of-market NFL game, has existed since 1994 (!). NFL RedZone, a channel that sporadically jumps to every scoring play in every game, has existed since 2009. If sitting in front of the TV all day watching different episodes of a single sport isn’t binge-watching, I have no idea what is.

Football games simply aren’t enough for football fans either. Football-centric, binge-worthy reality television shows have become increasingly popular in the last several years, and not just among the most hardcore football fans. Shows like Netflix’s “QB1: Beyond the Lights” and “Last Chance U,” as well as HBO’s “Hard Knocks” and “24/7 College Football” are among the services’ most popular programs. On top of that, if real-life football drama wasn’t enough, scripted shows like “Friday Night Lights,” “Ballers” and “All-American” are popular among consumers who couldn’t even tell you how many yards are required for a first down.

Despite what so-called “experts” may say, football isn’t going anywhere. Quite the contrary, it seems that the sport has been waiting a long time for this cultural shift to shorter attention spans and massive overstimulation. In fact, it’s up to its gills with programs that can entice even the most casual fan to dive into football obsession headfirst.

To paraphrase the great Patches O’Houlihan: if you can binge-watch a show, you can binge-watch a sport. I think that plays — and if it doesn’t, let me know. You know where to find me: in my man cave, getting paler by the minute, watching a sport I love. Or at the sports bar, with the other people who can’t figure out how to better spend their fall weekends. One thing’s for sure: I’ll be there all weekend.

Matthew Philips is a senior writing about football. He is also a former lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Catch or No Catch,” runs every other Tuesday.