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WHAT DO YOU THINK?
Is baseball still the
Will Leitch is a
senior writer for
Sports on Earth
com) and the
founder of Deadspin (deadspin.
com), a sports blog.
Kyle Ringo is a
who has covered
sports all over the
U.S. over the past
MORE PEOPLE ARE watching baseball than at any other time in human history.
Last year’s World Series was the most watched in ;; years. When you look at
streaming options—in which MLB has had a technological edge over other sports
for two decades now—and attendance and the global spread of the game, baseball
is vastly more popular than it has ever been. Your nostalgia is fooling you: When
Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth’s home run record, Yankee Stadium was half full.
TV ratings have never been the right way to look at baseball’s popularity. The
NFL will always have better television ratings than baseball because every football
game is billed and promoted as a Major Event. Baseball is far too important to
be boiled down to one specific game or occurrence.
The key to baseball is that it is always happening and it is everywhere. It is
there for you however much of it you want, or don’t want. Football takes place
one day a week: We gather around the television to watch it while we feast and
indulge. Baseball is much more connected to us. There is baseball in your neighborhood, and in the next town over, and in the big city where the pro team is, and
also everywhere else you look. Baseball is like life in that way. You do your best
today, and if it doesn’t work out, hey, you get to do it again tomorrow.
Baseball is also, thanks to MLB’s thriving Advanced Media arm and its compendium of television contracts (national and regional), more profitable than
it has ever been, which has led to competitive balance that the sport hasn’t had
in generations. (No longer is it just the Yankees outspending everyone else and
winning every season.) And it has emotional stories, like the Cubs’ World Series
victory, that play up the game’s history and its modern resonance.
The NFL will always give you roughly the same product, exactly when it wants
you to have it. But MLB gives you your own choice of what you want, when you
want it, how you want it. Baseball is your connection to those who came before
you, and to those who came after you.
The NFL has its bloodlust. But baseball owns our hearts. C
I’M A LIFELONG baseball fan. I grew up playing the game, and I’m less than a
year removed from finally, mercifully watching my beloved Chicago Cubs win
the World Series. I’d love to be able to say baseball is still our national pastime.
But it’s just not. Nothing is. The world has changed massively in the more than
a century since baseball was first dubbed the national pastime. These days, there
really isn’t one activity or one sport that a majority of Americans are invested
in to the point that it could accurately be referred to as the national pastime.
If we’re limiting the discussion to the sports world, baseball clearly isn’t king
there anymore either. Football is much more popular.
Football has urgency on its side. The NFL regular season consists of just ;;
games, making each outcome critically important to the success or failure of a
season. Football stadiums are packed even for preseason games. ESPN reported
the average NFL game in the ;;;; season was watched by more than ;; million
people. Night games often attracted more than ;; million viewers.
Baseball games are often played in stadiums that are half or even less than
half full. Most ;;;; MLB playoff games didn’t even attract ;; million viewers. It
took two long-suffering franchises—the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians—making
it to the World Series and then producing a thrilling seven-game, extra-innings
dogfight to push viewership above ;; million for the World Series.
So, if we’re going to pick one sport to serve as a national pastime, it’s clearly
got to be football in ;;;;. However, even football might not be able to remain the
top dog for a century or more the way baseball did.
Concussions already have led to a drop in participation numbers in youth
and high school football in recent years. More kids are opting not to play the
game that plays so well on television on fall and winter weekends.
While baseball remains a cornerstone of the American experience, we no
longer live in a world where a single sport occupies the nation’s attention the
way baseball once did. C
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