Steinberg: NFL still at the top

I spent last week in Washington D.C. and the area is ablaze with Redskin mania. Every cab driver, shopkeeper and person I encountered is in a state of excitement about the prospects of the team.

Robert Griffin III could be elected mayor in a landslide. It is stunning to witness coming from teamless Southern California where the resurgence of the Dodgers, demise of the Angels, and how the Lakers will fare without Dwight Howard are central sports topics.

The National Football League has taken a firm grip as this country's dominant sport and certain cities have fan bases that are at a heightened level of interest.

For the better part of the last century, it was Major League Baseball that was America's pastime. It was the most important sport to media and fans. That started changing, as the NFL-television partnership became a marriage made in heaven.

Last season there were weeks where the top-5 rated Nielsen television shows were nighttime NFL games or shows. "Football Night in America," NBC's pre-game show was rated No. 3 one week.

To put that into perspective, more Americans were watching a pre-game show than "Dancing With the Stars," "Two and a Half Men," or anything else.

Stadiums are filled with sold-out luxury boxes and premium seating. Millions of fans follow games on every platform of content supply. As many as 40 million people participate in fantasy leagues.

An NFL Network, Direct TV and multiple outlets provide more than just games — endless highlights, analysis and other programming. The second-most popular team sport in this country right now is college football. We will cover the reason for football's primacy in a later column.

There are certain cities that have an unbelievable density of hard-core fandom. Washington D.C. is one of them.

Dan Snyder, Redskin owner, and his executives have done a superb marketing job in extending their brand in creative ways. They have provided fans with an endless array of opportunity to interact and identify. But this tradition has gone on for a long time.

In the heyday of "Hog" football there were more local radio and television shows on the air featuring players than any other city except Chicago. The front page of the national and international newspaper that along with the New York Times is the "paper of record" for the country featured a huge color photo of RG III on the front page.

Cities like Washington are "gateway" teams with huge national following.

The lobby of an "away game" hotel looks like "Hog Central" — Chicago may have had Michael Jordan, but that is a football city. In 1985 the entire city looked like one big Bear memorabilia store. There were so many local radio and television shows featuring Bears that safety Gary Fencik, playing at a generally anonymous position, had his own.

I represented quarterback Jim Harbaugh and it was impossible to ever finish a meal in any public restaurant. When the Bears are in a Super Bowl the host city swells to unmanageable proportions because Bear fans travel.

Pittsburgh has a hardcore "Steeler Nation" that is loyal through and through. I represented quarterbacks Neil O'Donnell, Kordell Stewart and Ben Roethlisberger in his early years.

There was no better place to be a starting player. We released a "Big Ben" T-shirt in the local market in Ben's first year and the sales exceeded the population of the metro market, meaning it would have encompassed every last person were it not for multiple sales.

The Rooney family has done a sensational job of keeping that team competitive notwithstanding the loss of key players.

Dallas is another "gateway" team, its fans live and die with the Cowboys. Jerry Jones took the lead on introducing marketing techniques into the NFL and was a visionary.

Robert Kraft, owner of the Patriots, has been incredibly creative and New England loves their Patriots.

There are many other cities. But players know the franchises where fans take football seriously and support their teams through thick and thin, and love playing there.

LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports.

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