A recently released Harris Poll has football as the most popular sport in the U.S.A., among sports fans. The question asked was “If you had to choose one, which sport would you say is your favorite?” 32% said pro football. 16% responded with baseball. Back in 1985, 24% said pro football and 23% said baseball.
Is pro football simply that much of a better game than baseball or are there other factors at play?
I’ve been asking people over the past day or so and got some interesting answers. Some say that every game matters in football. Some said the baseball games are too long. Others said 162 games is too many.
Every game mattered in football in 1985. Baseball played 162 games in 1985. That was the year football and baseball were nearly tied in popularity so those probably factors. The average length of a MLB baseball game is 3 hours and 13 minutes. An average NFL games lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes.
One thing nobody mentioned, but I think is partially responsible, is cable TV.
A 2013 study by GfK Media & Entertainment found that 19.3% of US homes do not subscribe to pay TV and rely solely on over the air broadcasting. That number probably jumped higher in the past year as more and more people cut the cable chord and rely on services like Netflix, Hulu, HBO ToGO, Crackle, Amazon, etc. That means that over 59 million viewers do not have cable. That 59 million is mostly comprised of young people, minorities and low income households.
What does the NFL do? It is the only sports league that delivers all of its games, even the postseason, on free over the air television.
Baseball? Not quite the same. Major League Baseball is actually trending towards pretty much no games, aside from Sunday afternoons, being broadcast free over the air. In New York, the Yankees are on the YES Network, which must be paid for. In Philly, we have to have access to Comcast Sports Network to watch all the games.
Are the MLB owners shooting themselves in the foot by limiting their exposure? The size of recent TV contracts would say no. Some of these contracts are for billions of dollars. However, the money gained by these cable broadcasting rights seem to be hurting the popularity of the game. In the long run, this may prove to be a fatal mistake for the future of the baseball.
Everyone DVRs everything if they do subscribe to pay TV. That allows for the fast-forwarding through commercials. Sports are the exception and advertisers are lining up to through ad dollars at sports programming. One would think that baseball ratings would be higher on over the air broadcasting and would in turn generate more advertising revenue. Perhaps the local affiliates just don’t have the money to compete with the cable companies. I can’t see the local CW network shelling out billions.
I still believe baseball fans are out there. Maybe I’m wrong and the game is just too slow for the new generation of potential fans. However, Little League baseball is as popular as ever and the Taney Dragons drew impressive ratings during the Little League World Series.
Professional football is more popular because it’s a great product and it’s free to watch….for everyone. If I was the Commissioner of MLB, I’d work on making the games more accessible to those 59 million people who can’t watch a game without paying for it. That’s a lot of people.