By: Derek Crouse
The NFL is quickly becoming the favorite sport of the nation. The NFL Hall of Fame game was played between the Dallas Cowboys and the Cincinnati Bengals. Keep in mind that the starters only play five to ten snaps at most in the initial preseason games. That same day, the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox were playing in one of the premier baseball rivalries in the MLB. This matchup usually brings the highest average ratings for the season nationally.
When the ratings came back for the weekend, the NFL preseason game drew a 7.6 rating while the Yankees/Red Sox game scored a 2.7. This was the highest for a NFL preseason game in six years. That was an increase of 31 percent from last year. The 2009 World Series averaged a 7.5 and that was when games truly mattered. Super Bowl XLIV became the most watched program in history with 153.4 millions viewers which equals to a 45.0 rating. Is the newfound love for football a trend or is it here to stay? Why is the NFL rising while the MLB stumbles?
With the current technical revolution of the twenty-four media cycle, social networking, and high definition television, the consumer’s choices of entertainment options are endless. Dish Network offers a package of 250 channels. You can download any movie you want to your PC or TV from Netflix. The new caffeinated and frenetic paced society we live in craves to be amazed, shocked, and emotionally gripped by the shows they watch. Football puts many of these ingredients into the pot while the modern viewer sees baseball as a bland product with no spice.
The NFL brings you raw aggression, big plays, and chess like tactics, but with blinding speed. The game still has to played under control like a great pitcher in the 9th inning going for a save, but the quarterback is being assaulted by guys averaging 6’5” and 300 lbs. The peaks and valleys of the game makes for great theatre on Sundays in the fall. The product the NFL puts on the field is second to none in the sports world.
The structure of the NFL season compared to the MLB is another reason for the rise in popularity. For instance, baseball is a predominately a summer sport. Many Americans are enjoying outdoor activities and television becomes the second and third option of entertainment for many. This hurts the average rating for all programming during the summer months. The season also stretches for 162 games so the casual fan thinks, “Well, they’ll play again tomorrow” or “I’ll just catch the highlights on Sportscenter”. Even many hard-core baseball fans admit to just watching highlights during the summer en route to watching more towards September.
The NFL makes a whole celebratory day out of their schedule each week. Everybody knows the house where the guys go on Sundays to watch “the game”. The term “the game” is invalid though because almost every team is playing within a 6-hour timeframe. So there are sometimes 10 games being played at the same time. For some families, Sunday football is a way to get together during the fall when the pace of life seems to slow after Labor Day. Between the food, drinks, and fantasy leagues, it almost becomes like a Sabbath day for football fanatics. Every game seems to have more substance when a team only gets 16 chances for victory instead of 162. When the NFL claims one day for its games, exposure of the sport saturates TV, radio, and social networks that whole day which leads to the building up of the next week.
The start of the MLB season even loses media coverage to the NFL Draft. During August when teams are fighting for division titles on the diamond, ESPN and sports radio is already heavily distracted by NFL training camps and free agent signings. Nobody has even played a snap yet but the most popular topics around the nation are football related. It is as though the NFL season never really ends. Could anybody perceive of a high TV rating for a MLB draft or exhibition baseball?
Testing for performance enhancing drugs may also have come back to bite the MLB. This season has produced the best season for pitchers since 1991. Chicks dig the long ball and sluggers are shrinking as fast as their home run averages. The league wide average television ratings have fallen this year. The MLB saw the highest popularity during the steroid era where Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds were recording some of biggest numbers in history. Now the game has integrity, but the consequences are that some the excitement has now been erased. Scrutinized players like Alex Rodriguez hit 600 home runs with little notoriety. The MLB does have the strictest PED policy of the three major sports presently. Recently, the All-Star game got a 7.5 rating which doesn’t equal a preseason football game.
On the other hand, the prototype NFL player, mostly of American heritage unlike baseball, gets bigger, stronger, and faster each year. Is this due to new training, nutrition, or is the testing policy not catching players in the off-season? Roger Goodell is pursuing an effort to test for HGH that the players union will have to hesitantly vote on.
Our society today is a metaphor for ancient Rome who loved bread and circuses and watched superhuman Gladiators fight it out in massive coliseums. This type of entertainment has been passed down for thousands of years. We love and envy these players who almost receive superhero status.
For a culture that is seemingly more and more progressive, does the NFL fit the bill for the brand of sport that viewers are attracted to? The current ratings and overall attention that football receives from the media, it seems that baseball is behind the huge shadow that is the NFL. Baseball and basketball is played by leagues all over the world whereas the NFL is truly American. When the Super Bowl becomes the most watched program in television history, it shows that baseball is being lapped in the race for the interest of the nation.