There are many reasons why the NFL has overtaken Major League Baseball in popularity over the last few decades. When I ask people why they prefer pro football to baseball, one of the most common responses is something like, "In baseball only the Yankees and Red Sox are good. Nobody else has a chance to win. Football has a lot more parity."
The NFL has sure been successful marketing itself as the league of parity. But does this really hold true? Is it more competitive than Major League Baseball?
Before we answer that question, let's discuss why many people feel that way. The main reason is probably that the NFL has a salary cap which prevents big-market teams from gobbling up all the quality free agents. Of the 2000's NFL franchises that have been consistently successful, only New England can be considered a large market. Compare that to the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies who all play in large markets. At least in theory, the NFL method should be fairer because it forces teams to use good planning and management to win instead of just "buying" players.
However, while the NFL is more competitive than MLB on paper, the results don't necessarily bear that out. A number of different metrics prove that MLB is at least as competitive, if not more so, than the NFL.
Below is a graph of the last 10 World Series and Super Bowl winners.
|Year||World Series Champion||Super Bowl Champion|
|2007||Red Sox||NY Giants|
As you can see, nine different teams (30 percent of all MLB teams) have won the last 10 World Series, with only the Red Sox winning twice. The "Yankees-Red Sox" tandem that many claim dominates baseball only accounted for three championships in the last decade.
However, only seven different teams (21.9 percent of all NFL teams) have won the last 10 Super Bowls. The Patriots account for three Lombardi Trophies, while the Steelers won twice. It appears over the last decade that the "Patriots-Steelers" tandem was much more dominant than the "Yankees-Red Sox."
If that isn't convincing enough, I will expand this even further to measure appearances in either League Championship Series or Conference Championship games (which are the playoff rounds immediately before the World Series and Super Bowl, respectively) over the last fiv years. Advancement to this round is an indication that the team has won at least one playoff series or game and is thus truly a quality team. Although elite franchises such as the Yankees, Patriots and Steelers may consider losing in this round a "bad" season, most teams in both leagues would consider it a good season.
Below is a list of MLB teams that appeared in an LCS series in the last five years:
|Year||AL Winner||AL Loser||NL Winner||NL Loser|
Over the past five years, 15 different teams (50 percent of the league) have appeared in an LCS series. Let's compare that to the number of NFL teams that have appeared in a Conference Championship game over the past five years.
|Year||AFC Winner||AFC Loser||NFC Winner||NFC Loser|
Over the past five years, only 13 different NFL teams (40.6 percent of the league) have appeared in a Conference Championship game. MLB wins out in this category as well.
In short, I'm not a hardline MLB loyalist. In fact, I like the NFL a little more than I do baseball. I like that there are less games, and that the games are on weekends. MLB, albeit imperfect, is still a great league with great competition. While people may perceive MLB's system as being less fair than that of the NFL, postseason results prove that right now MLB is even more competitive than the NFL.
However, perception is reality. Many people will not be persuaded with dry statistics that pro baseball is as competitive as pro football. Ultimately, Bud Selig is going to have to do a much better job of marketing his league as competitive, fun and entertaining. If he fails to do so, the popularity gap between Major League Baseball and the NFL will only continue to widen.