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Did you know that the NFL is more popular than baseball? It’s true!

Oct 6, 2011, 8:52 AM EDT

old TV

Christine Brennan of USA Today is blowing the lid off of this baby.  And it’s somewhat surprising to her:

If I had had to guess, I would have said the TV ratings in Milwaukee for the two games would have been about equal, considering the Packers were early in their season, while the Brewers were in a crucial, best-of-five postseason series …

See, that would be a really silly guess.  Why? Because Brennan herself, just last year, wrote basically the same column, noting how an awful early-season Jags-Titans Game outdrew, yes, a “crucial” playoff game between the Yankees and Rangers.  News flash: people like football and people in Wisconsin really like the Packers.

Last year she attributed it all to baseball not having instant replay. This year’s it’s because Division Series games start at funky times and are on more obscure cable networks.  It’s always something.

(thanks to Scott for the heads up)

Never, however, does she seem to note — as we and others have noted countless times — that comparing these ratings mean very little. It’s a given that the NFL is more popular overall (and that the Packers may have a more loyal following than any team in the league). It’s a given that baseball’s nature and structure are such that it simply doesn’t and will never draw the kind of national ratings that football will.

Brennan ignores this, crediting the NFL for its “intelligent marketing” instead of simply having a game which appeals to more people and adding a dubious “we’ll have to take his word for it” after Commissioner Selig tries to explain how baseball’s nature is simply different from that of football and that last Wednesday night’s game-162 excitement was fantastic.

Dissonance must scare her. It must simply not compute that some people like one thing, some like another, some like both and that such differences are not attributable to small decisions like instant replay or a start time.  That it just is and — barring the change in national mood and tastes like we saw over decades that led the NFL to surpass baseball as the country’s favorite sport — it will always be thus.

  1. dbick - Oct 6, 2011 at 8:58 AM

    I wonder if, In England, they write articles like “Soccer more popular than cricket”?

    • Francisco (FC) - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:24 AM

      If they did they’d fire the author in a heartbeat. It’s: “Football more popular than cricket?”

      • dbick - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:19 AM

        Hey, I had to americanize it for the audience. But touche nonetheless

      • The Baseball Idiot - Oct 6, 2011 at 12:04 PM

        Hell, East Enders is more popular than football.

    • APBA Guy - Oct 6, 2011 at 12:39 PM

      Yep, just the other night on Sky Sports News (actually it was their 7:00 am broadcast which we get at 11:00 pm in the West coast) they were teasing a cricket journalist about how football crazy the English sporting public is. “It’s not even close” the journalist admitted.

  2. stoutfiles - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:01 AM

    Could also be that 162 games wears any fan down, so if your team isn’t in the playoffs it’s not a big draw.

    Another possible reason is Fantasy Football, which turns meaningless games into possible matchup victories.

    • sdelmonte - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:11 AM

      No, it’s about the gambling. If people didn’t place bets on football, there would be less interest.

      But no one ever wants to admit this.

      • paperlions - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:26 AM

        I don’t bet on football (or anything) but will watch just about any college or pro football game that is somewhat competitive. Football is a great game, and even though you don’t see anywhere near 100% of the action you might want to see on TV (because it just follows the ball), there is a lot going on during most plays. Baseball is also a great game, and I will watch some of a lot of MLB games….but I generally have to have some rooting interest to watch more than a few minutes.

        The nature of the games is different and one is better on TV….it isn’t just about gambling. If MLB could have monster national TV contracts, they would…but they don’t because there is not much national interest in most games, which has led to RSNs.

        Both great games, just different….I don’t see why one being good at something has to be viewed as a failing of the other.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Oct 6, 2011 at 11:01 AM

        “I don’t bet on football (or anything)”

        Sample-size, paper 😀 I’d be willing to bet if you get 25 random people in a room, at least 20 of them will have placed a bet at one time or another in their lives and at least 10 of them will have placed bets on a football game. Monday night football was created so the gamblers could make back their money after losing it all on Sunday.

      • cur68 - Oct 6, 2011 at 2:12 PM

        Betting involves all sorts of things. I myself lost a wager this season and had to write a glowing, gushing sickeningly sweet description of the Phillys losing a game. Here’s the thing about betting: YOU DON’T HAVE TO BET MONEY to have fun betting. I’d love to see a Cards Fan/Philly Phan wager get put out there, loser has to write up the game in most glowing possible terms. That would be awesome, given some of the personalities around here…

  3. bleedgreen - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:05 AM

    Or that I can watch a my baseball team play EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK, and I can only watch my football team once a week.

  4. Jonny 5 - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    The Phills had the best local ratings for any baseball team. But the Eagles, even though they suck, had a better share. It’s the *&%^*%ing playoffs Philly!!! Get with it.

    • CJ - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:13 AM

      please don’t remind me the Eagles suck on a baseball blog. I come here to try pretend the season hasn’t started yet. Clearly they don’t think it’s started yet either.

  5. - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:14 AM

    If we beat this horse anymore PETA is going to be out front protesting.

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:27 AM

      I don’t think PETA cares what you do to animals after they are dead…and this one is already mummified.

  6. kellyb9 - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:17 AM

    The ALCS on FOX would be a better comparison for the NFL versus MLB.

  7. dailyrev - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Oh this is de rigeur in political writing, people rehashing the same formula every month (never mind waiting a year). Slap a new headline over it, change some names and dates, and you’ve got the latest OMFG revelation for your readers. And you didn’t even have to, you know, work.

    The question that writers might work on now is: Why? (I bet the MLB marketers are). My answer will sound formulaic itself, given our culture, but it’s really got layers to it, so I’ll just toss this out: sex. As vicarious self-image (men) and as the obvious (ripped guys in tight pants for the ladies and no Sabathia/Panda/Prince guts to them; even the 300 lb. boys on the OL are ripped now — in that respect the NFL’s become a freak show of sorts).

    But we need to identify as well as idealize, and that’s where Pandas and Chris Christies are appealing in our overweight American culture. We can dream of ourselves as ESPN The Body types, but we need to identify with those who look like us, too. That’s what sportswriters need to pay more attention to.

    • Bill - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:35 AM

      Exactly. We get the same slew of “Soccer Still Unpopular in America” stories (right next to the other slew of “Soccer on Verge of Popularity in America” stories) every four years during the World Cup. It’s all about column inches and finding ways to fill them without actually having to put forth effort.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:50 AM

        This is known as the Rick Reilly school of writing. Pen a column, wait 5 years and just copy/paste it and hope people aren’t smart enough to remember you wrote the same bloody thing 5 years earlier.

  8. trevorb06 - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    When you truly think about it baseball is actually more popular. Let’s put it into a simpler way. Football has 16 games where baseball has 162 games. If I watch about 50% of the Vikings and Twins game (which I’d say is about true) that means I’m watching 8 Vikings games and 81 Twins games.

    You also have to look at how football is marketed. Football needs beautiful women with the breasts popping out of the top of their shirt, flashy ads full of rowdy men, ads with tons of special effects. Baseball they basically just say, “3 game series. Twins vs White Sox”

    Lastly you must think of supply and demand. 16 Vikings games to 162 Twins games. Or you could even say 32 Giants or Jets game (unless they play each other then 31) to 162 Yankees games (let’s face it, if you like the Yankees chances are you don’t like the Mets). Supply is way down in football. Think of how popular alcohol became during prohibition? People went crazy for the stuff. Now that alcohol is in full supply it’s still plenty popular but people aren’t going to go nuts over it if they only have one chance a week to get their hands on it. People can get it whenever they want.

    I’d like to see somebody combine the ratings of 10 consecutive baseball games and compare that to one football game in the same local area. 162 games/16 games = 10 baseball games to 1 football game. It’s basic algebra. Any volunteers to look thru some ratings?

    Bottom line, really football isn’t truly more popular, it’s just people are deprived of it 6 days a week (or 5 for the die hards).

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:39 AM

      Yes, football is more popular….and it isn’t close….even less close if you combine pro and college.


      • trevorb06 - Oct 6, 2011 at 9:59 AM

        You know what they say about statistics, right?

        See the main thing in that poll is the stipulation of FAVORITE sport. Let’s say you poll 10 people on which sports they like to watch. 8 of those ten say they like to watch baseball. 7 of those 10 say they like to watch football. 5 of those people say football is their favorite sport. 2 of those people say baseball is their favorite sport. Does that mean of the 10 people more people like football? I’m sure if that poll what a straight up “Which sports do you like to watch?” instead of favorite sport then the numbers would be a lot closer between football, baseball and I’m sure basketball and hockey’s numbers would be up there as well.

        Go find me some numbers for the ratings of 10 baseball games to 1 football game (ie first ten baseball games to first 1 football game and so on) and I’m sure you’ll see something good.

      • paperlions - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:15 AM

        What you are doing is called bias….you know who says you can say anything with statistics? People that have no experience with them….you know what they say about baseless, unsupported opinions?

        You don’t like the CLEAR and REPEATED results, so you ignore them, come up with a contrived example (without bothering to find the data yourself) that won’t actually prove the point (popularity/favoritism is not the same as ratings) and focus on that minute aspect without regard for the general question.

        If the question is: which sport is most popular? The answer is the US is very clearly football…and baseball is a distant 2nd.

        If you want the answer to your contrived myopic focus…go find it yourself. It is up to you to prove that the presented data is incorrect, otherwise you are just admitting defeat while still arguing.

      • Alex K - Oct 6, 2011 at 11:24 AM


    • Francisco (FC) - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:02 AM

      Someone already did this a few weeks ago in a previous thread for comparing TV ratings. Football is one game one showdown. Baseball is a series. I have no idea about popularity. In terms of money(ball) they’re actually not that far off: $9 BN vs $7 BN.

      • trevorb06 - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:10 AM

        Thanks FC. Essentially my point.

      • paperlions - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:20 AM

        Congratulations, you’ve shown that the average baseball fan spends more money on MLB stuff than your average football fan spends on NFL stuff….still….not the same as popularity.

      • Francisco (FC) - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:29 AM

        Paperlions, I said I have no idea about popularity, I didn’t claim that people spending more money meant it was necessarily more popular. Don’t type words on my keyboard. From MLB’s point of view rising profits is their primary goal in measuring their success, actual popularity is probably a secondary concern.

      • - Oct 6, 2011 at 12:20 PM

        I’ve been a big defender of the baseball is relevant phrase. However, football is more popular. You cannot deny that.

        Think of it this way. It takes MLB around 2500 games to produce that 7BN. The NFL genrates 2BN more with 10% of the content.

        That being said. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. The games are different. They’re consumed differently. It irritates me that there is this mentality that you can’t enjoy both. And I think it’s perpetiated by the media, this article as an example. (I’d like to blame Florio, but that’s just a reflection of the media as whole) Most of the sports fans I know enjoy the NFL and MLB and thoughts of one being better than the other are relegated to the internet.

  9. miketdark - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    It is only the football people that care. It is like Coke versus Pepsi, Pepsi is always comparing themselves to Coke, taste tests, and commercials where Santa chooses Pepsi over Coke, the Coke driver that liked Pepsi Zero or whatever. Coke just says “We’re Coke”. Enough said. Football is more popular, so what, we’re baseball.

    Also, popularity is so overrated! To quote the immortal Phil Connors “People like blood sausage too, people are morons!”

    • ThatGuy - Oct 6, 2011 at 11:19 AM

      Hey now, don’t be stealing the “we don’t care if were popular” fan line. Thats hockey’s bread and butter.

  10. El Bravo - Oct 6, 2011 at 10:54 AM

    Two words: DA BEARS!

  11. sknut - Oct 6, 2011 at 11:12 AM

    Since when are TBS/TNT obscure cable networks?

    I hate that people are lazy, its not that hard to find the games.

    Same goes with the NHL on Versus/NBCSports or whatever it will be called.

    • scatterbrian - Oct 6, 2011 at 12:24 PM

      TBS. Very obscure.

      TNT. We know obscurity.

  12. steveohho - Oct 6, 2011 at 11:21 AM

    The reason these articles are written like so many are is merely to fill the space up between the ads. They have no value other than that.

  13. scatterbrian - Oct 6, 2011 at 1:02 PM

    Last year the Twilight movie made just over $300M. True Grit made $171M. Popularity doesn’t always equal best.

  14. spudchukar - Oct 6, 2011 at 1:21 PM

    Personally I could give a rat’s ass about popularity. Best Sellers=Trash, Pop Music=Trash. Football is fun to watch, but try it for 162 times and something tells me it would lose many followers. Baseball is the better game. Who cares if it is the most popular. Opiates for the masses.

    • firedude7160 - Oct 7, 2011 at 1:49 AM

      I don’t think there are any guys that could make it through 162 footaball games in a season. I agree with everything you said, except that baseball is the better game. I think it is a matter of personal preference. I love baseball, but I also love Football. I don’t think I could pick which one I enjoy more, as I enjoy them for different reasons.

  15. tashkalucy - Oct 6, 2011 at 6:44 PM

    The fact that a regular season game in one sport gets higher ratings in an area where their team is in a playoff series in another sport is nothing to throw the frat humor that this so-called journalist writes here.

    This is an indictment of MLB, and how low it has sunk after being the national pastime for generations.

    The salary discrepancies between large and small-mid markets make MLB anything but a true national sport. And the fact that fans are supposed to be loyal to their team while they lose their stars constantly doesn’t seem to be working very well. Any promoter of professional sport will tell you that when a market can’t keep its star players, it cannot keep its fans.

    As far as HardballTalk goes, in order to turn a profit I’d suggest getting writers that have outgrown the frat house, and try to bring in what passes for adults in current American Society. It’s getting tiresome reading articles that read like there were written by two 12-year old giggly girls. I mean, I understand that standards have sunk around America, but this is ridiculous……

  16. adenzeno - Oct 6, 2011 at 7:34 PM

    Baseball always > football…

  17. tuftsb - Oct 6, 2011 at 8:10 PM

    Baseball will always be less popular than football because those baseball players sullied the sport by taking steroids and getting ridiculously big over the past few decades.

    We all know that football players at the professional and collegiate level would never do that.

  18. yyyass - Oct 7, 2011 at 8:12 AM

    Baseball broadcasts simply don’t have the exciting opening songs like football. I’m sure that with Hank Jr. out of the picture the ratings will begin to even out. And if someone from MLB ever airs a non-retouched version of Faith Hill’s animatronic bombastic song-thing they might even surpass football. I miss that classic MFL music or the frozen tundra music from NFL films. I don’t need bad redneck country-pop shoved down my throat when prepapring to watch a league that is comprised of 80% African Americans. Who confused the NFL with NASCAR? Even NASCAR fans can see “NASCAR” has almost twice as many letters as “NFL” and they look noticeably different even if they don’t know what they are.

  19. simplicitymadecomplex - Oct 7, 2011 at 12:33 PM

    Bread and circuses folks bread & circuses in which the bread is more expensive and the circuses more violent.

    Everything else flows from just how well the “bread and circuses” perform and these babies must perform better than any and all of our other “INSTITUTIONS”.

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