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NCAA Vs. NFL: Is College Or Professional Football Bigger?

College football is almost just as popular as NFL football. But is college football bigger than the NFL? How can you measure which sport is bigger anyway?

Duke University - Wallace Wade Stadium
Duke University – Wallace Wade Stadium in Durham North Carolina

Is college football or the NFL bigger?

College football is not necessarily bigger than the NFL, but it does have a cultural significance in the United States. While the NFL is considered America’s top Football league, college football has a strong regional following and deep rooted tradition in many parts of the country. 

As a sports enthusiast who has been following football for over 20 years, I can say without a doubt the debate among which sport, college football, or NFL football, is bigger has been raging for years.

But in this article we will go over some of the factors that play into the decision of which one is larger.

Sanford Stadium, University of Georgia, Athens GA
Sanford Stadium, University of Georgia, Athens GA

College Football vs. NFL

The NFL is a much more well established football league. The NFL has been around since the 1920’s while the NCAA division has been around since 1978. 

College football has around 130 teams while the NFL has 32 teams. The NFL has a much larger global following and has fans tune in across the world in order to watch their teams play. 

College football seems to be more regional, with fans ranging from former alma maters and those who live nearby the team. 

College Football Playoffs is one of the most watched television events of the year, with millions tuning in to watch teams compete. 

Revenue is another point to factor in when considering which is bigger. 

While the NFL gains more revenue overall, particularly through television and sponsorship, college football still generates substantial amounts of revenue through the same channels.

College football and NFL football both have deep impacts on American society. 

Differences Between College and NFL

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The first difference between the two sports teams is age and skill level. 

College football usually has team members that range in the 18-22 year old skill level. The NFL football’s average age usually ranges from ages mid 20’s to early 30. 

NFL football players are usually more experienced and perform at a higher caliber than the college footballs average performance standard. 

In college, players are often given scholarships in order to step foot on college stadiums and play college ball. 

They play for free and are proud to do so, while in the NFL, all the players are paid a substantial amount. 

The NFL stadiums that house the games are usually smaller than the college stadiums. 

On game day, NFL players will usually play for around 82k people while college players can play for up to 115k people, so college football gets bigger crowds than the NFL.

The NFL ball used in games is bigger than the college ball used in college. NFL teams usually have a different style of play compared to college teams. 

The NFL ball lacks stripes, and the college ball has two white ones painted halfway around.

College footballs are about 1 and a quarter inch smaller than NFL footballs. 

College footballs used in college are generally smaller than NFL footballs. Sometimes the same ball is used in the NCAA and NFL but sometimes the balls vary. 

It all depends on the teams, which portion of the Football Bowl Subdivision is playing, and the rules agreed upon. 

Check out our related article, Why are college football tickets so expensive?

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College Football Games

The average viewership per college football game varies between each game. 

For regular season games, viewership can range between 2-5 million viewers per game. 

If the college ball game is one that is post season, that viewers can range from 10-15 million viewers per game. 

The college football playoff game, which decides the national champion, averages around 15 million viewers per game. 

College football generates nearly 1 billion dollars in annual revenue from television contracts, sponsorships, and merchandise sales. 

The College Football Playoffs has a 12 year contract with ESPN that’s supposed to generate well over $7 billion dollars in revenue. 

The money that colleges generate goes to other sports programs, athletic facilities, and scholarships for student-athletes.   

National Football League Games

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National football league games are considered some of the highest grossing television events of the year. 

The average NFL game can generate up to $500,000 dollars in ad revenue per game. 

While the NFL revenue generated differs greatly depending on which NFL team is playing, other sources of revenue are good to think about when comparing which is bigger. 

NFL has lots of contracts with major broadcasting companies such as CBS, Fox, NBC, and ESPN. Each network pays billions of dollars for the right to broadcast NFL games live.  

The NFL also generates revenue from sponsorships, licensing, and merchandise sales. 

Not to mention the superbowl, which generates hundreds of millions of dollars in ad revenue per year. The event is one of the most watched television events of the year and has millions of viewers tune into watch.

The Bottom Line

In terms of ad revenue, fan base, and viewership, the NFL is definitely considered the bigger entity of the two. 

But where the money goes in from the NFL is definitely not the bigger part. What I mean is, money from college ball is redirected back into the school and therefore its students. 

And that idea is really bigger than making profits for the sake of making profits. 

College ball seems to generate money to become a self-sustaining entity while the NFL makes money just for profit. 

Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC
Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, NC

So in my eyes, it seems that the bigger idea, with more wholesome ideals, and grassroots beginnings goes to college football. 

The players do play for free, which some might consider players getting ripped off, but at the same time, they are receiving a top notch education, which a lot of people would be happy about. 

Also, the money generated from ads goes directly back into the school so the school can continue to teach and educate. In total, I’d say college ball is bigger than the NFL because of this reason. 

The reason being that college money goes back into college, and into lifting people up into the middle class, while the NFL has no mission statement other than athleticism and making money. 

What college ball is doing is bigger than what the NFL is doing, and for that reason, I’d say college ball is bigger.

Key Takeaways

  • terms of revenue and money generated, NFL is the bigger sport.
  • College ball has more of a grassroots impact on US society.
  • There are major differences between college and NFL football.
  • Ad revenue is where most of the money from football is generated.
  • In terms of ideas, college ball is bigger than what the NFL is. 

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