While heroes may be the focal point of stories, they can’t save the day unless there is a villain to defeat. In sports leagues, the story is the season and enthralling villains only benefit them.
Whether it be the NFL, NBA or MLB, bad guys are critical to high ratings and merchandise sales. Antagonistic players and teams have an appeal that draws in viewers hoping to see them get taken down and knocked off their pedestal.
In the NBA, the current villain is the Golden State Warriors. Following the successful addition of Kevin Durant, the Warriors went from basketball’s darlings to public enemy number one.
Fans disliked Durant joining the Warriors even more after they beat the Oklahoma City Thunder (Durant’s former team), but the Warriors made the Finals and the NBA has only received positive ratings and revenue since.
In the 2017 NBA Finals, an average of 20.4 million viewers watched each game. It was also the the most watched NBA Finals since 1998, Michael Jordan’s last Finals appearance. To some fans, the Warriors ruined the season, but they still tuned in to watch and the NBA achieved record ratings.
Hated teams bring exposure to the league and its rising stars. The Golden State Warriors rank first in merchandise sales, with Stephen Curry’s jersey being the most popular, indicating that fans are engrossed with their team, according to an official release from the NBA.
The NFL has its own villains in the form of the New England Patriots and the Dallas Cowboys.
For the past two decades, the Patriots have been the most successful and most disliked football team. With each Super Bowl win, fan’s collective hatred only seems to grow. They currently rank as the second most hated team in the NFL, according to a SurveyMonkey Audience survey.
The Patriots also hold the first and third spots for the most watched Super Bowls in history according to Nielsen. Even though almost every state rooted against the Patriots during these Super Bowls, the games still achieved record ratings.
The Dallas Cowboys, much like the Patriots, have five Super Bowl wins and 14 NFC Championship Game appearances. They are ranked as the most hated team in the NFL, based on the same survey from SurveyMonkey Audience.
The two most hated NFL teams are also the two most valuable. With the Cowboys worth $4.8 billion and the Patriots worth $3.7 billion, the two are part of the NFL’s backbone in terms of revenue, ratings and market value.
In baseball, the one constant villain is the New York Yankees. In 2002, the CEO of the Boston Red Sox, Larry Lucchino, nicknamed them the “Evil Empire.” At a 27 percent unfavorability rating, the Yankees are the most hated baseball team in America, based on a survey from SurveyMonkey Audience.
Since the Yankees are in the league’s largest market and the most valuable MLB franchise, the exposure the Yankees provide is second to none. When the team is winning, the spotlight is on them and consequently the entire league. Despite the hatred, they still provide ratings that are hard to be replicated by a single team.
The one common quality among all three leagues is that the villains are often the most successful team. Other teams may make moves to beat them, which will ultimately lead to a more intense match, keeping current fans invested while also attracting new fans.
As hated as these teams are, their role as villains should be embraced. They give supporters a team to root against. Fans may hate them with a passion, but they still want to see opposing teams fail in their quest to become champions. Fans want to see the underdog rise up in victory.
From the league’s point of view, this means increased revenue, exposure and ratings, but more importantly, a villain in sports makes the season more interesting and entertaining to watch.