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“Baseball is America’s pastime, but football is truly America’s passion.”

Howie Long used that line in his enshrinement speech on our front steps in the summer of the 2000. It remains one of my favorite statements from any speech. It rings so true especially on a night like tonight.

Listen to Howie's Enshrinement speech>>>

The NFL kicks off its 92nd season in Green Bay as the defending Super Bowl champion Packers host the New Orleans Saints. Lambeau Field will be packed full and a huge national television audience will tune in as we are “Back to Football.”

It’s always an exciting day when the new season starts. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. While there were a few bumps along the road during the months since last Super Bowl, the NFL is back.

The popularity of the NFL cannot be questioned. The league enjoyed incredible television ratings last year and we expect that to continue in the 2011 NFL season.

Back to Howie’s line. I speak to a lot of groups, visitors, and media in the normal course of my job. One fact that I often point out that surprises people when I share it is just how long the NFL has been "king." Most think that the NFL’s rise to the top of the sports heap is relatively recent, like in the past 20 years.

But, the reality is that The Harris Poll in 1965 determined that the NFL was this country’s most popular sport and it has remained so ever since – that’s nearly a half century! No slam on the other sports like baseball, basketball, and hockey (after all I’m going to watch tonight’s kickoff with my colleagues from the Hockey Hall of Fame who are passing through town) but those sports don’t come even close to the type of audience that the NFL draws.

Here are just some of the statistics to support my argument. According to The Harris Poll, their most recent research as of January 2011 showed that pro football is the favorite sport of 31% of the people in the U.S. That is more than the total of the next three most popular pro sports.

The TV ratings I talked about include the three main networks drawing an average audience of 20 million people which is 144% higher than the average primetime audience of the major networks. Marketing data also shows that the NFL is top among video game sales and licensing.

And on that note, I wish all my fellow football fans a “Happy Kickoff to the Season.” Enjoy!

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