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Is football dying?

Jan 2, 2014, 3:32 PM EDT

Deflated Football

As baseball news is at its offseason nadir, it’s time to take note of something everyone is noticing but no one is willing to discuss openly: professional football, which used to be America’s most popular sport, no longer has a hold on the nation’s consciousness.

Over the years, you have heard myriad explanations for football’s declining popularity. High-definition television making people less likely to go to stadiums. The increasing sophistication of video game consoles creating a more appealing form of home entertainment. People’s increasing love of Sunday marathons of “Top Gear” on BBC America. All are valid explanations. But they have not seemed to detract from America’s new favorite pastime: baseball.

Look no further than this past season’s playoffs. Sellouts in Boston, St. Louis, Detroit, Los Angeles. Everyone from the cop on the corner to the man on the street enjoyed the baseball playoffs and Fall Classic. It really brought our nation together.

But the NFL? Costs are skyrocketing, pricing out the common fan. Playoff teams struggle to sell tickets. When the league should be celebrating its moment in the spotlight it finds itself enmeshed in controversy. A mere five years ago no one would have predicted that baseball would trump football in a popularity (non)contest like it does now. But they probably should have.

And to be clear: football’s declining allure has nothing to do with costs, the prevalence of social issues in the discourse or even the natural ebb and flow of popular entertainment. It has to do with the sport itself. There’s too broad a canvass on which to paint needed progressive change in football. Literally. There’s too much space.

Including end zones, a football field is 120 yards long and 53 yards wide, giving it a playing-surface area of 8,242,560 square inches. Eight million-plus square inches is far too much space for its participants to cover, both literally and thematically. It’s strategic schemes are simultaneously far too broad and far too intricate, and thus there is far too much required of the fan to accommodate the sport’s advancements.

Baseball, on the other hand, has a relevant playing surface area of a mere 216 square inches. That’s the area of home plate. Yes, baseball fields are about the same overall size as football fields, but the field does not become relevant until someone hits one of the pitches thrown to home plate. The sport hinges on what takes place near those 216 square inches. There are only so many things an athlete can do when confined to such tight parameters. There are only four things, really: throw a strike or a ball and swing the bat or don’t. Fans can handle something as simple as that. The entire game’s perfection is confined to a reasonable area, clearly seen by the home viewer and the fan in the overflowing stands alike. Granted, this is an oversimplification of a long-lived sport like football, but it is a clear explanation for why football’s best days are behind it.

Is football dying? The playoff game ticket sales, the sport’s own natural evolutionary limitations and the history of similar sports say yes. It’s just a matter of how quickly. The rate of football’s demise can easily turn into something of a mathematical argument based on presumption and perspective (two things that do not mix well with numbers). The National Football League came about in 1920. The sport’s golden age – its teenage years, if you will – was the 1960s through, oh, let’s call it early 2013. So perhaps football hasn’t even reached its midlife crisis yet. And yes, football’s TV ratings for the upcoming playoffs may show the sport to be back in full swing.

Bt in the big scheme of things, fewer people are going to playoff games. Meanwhile, the Spring Training is a little less than a month and a half away, and new records for attendance will probably be set.

Evolution at work.

My thanks to Kyle Daugherty for inspiring the idea of this post and to the New York Times’ Andy Benoit — and many other silly doomsayers of baseball — for inspiring the structure.

396 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. calpete750 - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:42 PM

    This guy just wrote a terrible piece

  2. calpete750 - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:51 PM

    Terrible article

  3. proudliberal85392 - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:17 PM

    extavernmouse, I couldn’t have said it better.

  4. zigsmart - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:32 PM

    Quite possibly the dumbest thing you have ever written.

  5. lawson1974 - Jan 4, 2014 at 2:06 AM

    Its amazing someone can simultaneously think they are so smart ( like Craig) and write an article this stupid.

    I like baseball more than football, but if anyone thinks that isnt a distinct minority then they are living in a 1950’s time machine…….. Or Cuba.

  6. hodag54501 - Jan 4, 2014 at 5:44 AM

    Yes, football is dying and it’s dying from the ground up. As a kid(1960’s) everyone I knew played some football. A few of us moved on to play in high school. We were all rabid fans. But in later years I noticed a trend away from the game as other sports, like soccer, came into focus. Even the kids wondered why they risk permanent injury so their high school can have a trophy in the case? The NFL has realized this for years and it’s just now starting to come into the national view. You see it in the NFL 60 ads. Kids, like their parents, are also gadget obsessed. Apparently playing games on a video screen is better than the real thing.
    As an old goat, I’m returning to enjoy the obsession of my youth: baseball. A game normal sized people can play on warm days. Joy.

  7. chrisco716 - Jan 4, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Huh? You check the Nielsen ratings lately? You been up in Colorado with that wacky weed?

    Now I see why NBS Sports keeps reporting Euro soccer that no one in the U.S. cares about.

    Out of touch. Out of mind.

  8. mikep363839 - Jan 4, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    What kind of garbage is this how do you even have a job as a sports writer playoff teams couldn’t sell tickets because of the weather…baseball is played in the summer

  9. djshnooks - Jan 4, 2014 at 6:20 PM

    This is a joke, right?

    Has to be, considering it is written by somebody who covers baseball, and it is filed under “baseball” news. Lol, baseball?

    Wow.

  10. johnnybangry - Jan 4, 2014 at 7:37 PM

    What’s baseball?

  11. thesilverbandit - Jan 4, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    This might just be the worst article ever written. Craig’s argument that baseball is more popular than football hinges on two weak points: the decreasing sales of NFL playoff tickets (which does not take into account the increasing television viewership over past decade) and the area of the football field (in which his qualifier to justify a smaller yet the same sized baseball field make this argument farfetched at best) . This article lessens the value on anyone of his works, for the sheer fact that one person can write this full article of nonsense and then edit the same article and then post it.

  12. shaneregel34 - Jan 4, 2014 at 11:50 PM

    I don’t think you can fairly say that in game attendance and popularity are the same thing. The NFL still dominates TV ratings which is where all the money is anyway.

  13. xjokerz - Jan 5, 2014 at 12:40 AM

    craig needs to keep attention someone how on this board…tho the Pro Bowl draws better TV Ratings than the MLB world series

    lol..

  14. footballer4ever - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:43 AM

    @braxtonrob

    “Of course “football” is not dying – It’s the most popular sport in the world! ”

    I am sure you are talking about round ball football and not about eggball.

  15. gcruzzurc - Jan 5, 2014 at 9:10 AM

    lol baseball is awful

  16. raysfan1 - Jan 5, 2014 at 1:44 PM

    Craig, congratulations on the greatest troll ever. You suckered hundreds and likely most still don’t get the tongue-in-cheek aspects of this article. Be sure to post something linking back to this article on April 1st.

    Happy New Year.

  17. rcali - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    This article is a well deserved shot at the pundits constantly dismissing baseball and this is a baseball blog so everyone not need to get their panties in a bunch. That being said, the NFL has been pricing out people for years and pushing them to their sofas. Now they are looking to go the route of the NBA and NHL by devaluing the regular season with an expanded playoff system. Let’s also not forget that the NFL played a game this season overseas that pretty much excluded the west coast time wise. If fans refuse to support a bad organization, the NFL threatens to move the team to another city or another country instead of putting any blame on ownership. Now they can’t sell playoff tickets in football cities. There is something to be said for all this.

  18. officialgame - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:49 PM

    No but the writers brain cells are long gone.

  19. cfballfan1 - Jan 5, 2014 at 2:53 PM

    The powers that be at NBpC should drug – test the author of this article immediately.

    That’s some powerful trip dude – seek help!

  20. sailcat54 - Jan 5, 2014 at 10:48 PM

    When the lawsuits that the NFL and the NCAA have been desperately trying to head off finally hit the courtrooms, gridiron football will be changed forever.

  21. mickton - Jan 5, 2014 at 11:40 PM

    If I want to take a nap ill put a baseball game on the tv.

  22. staffordsyear - Jan 6, 2014 at 1:10 AM

    Yes it is dying..the biggest reason is all the rules that are being assesed (tackling rules?)..way to much protecting the qb, poor pass defensive rules and its showing because the refs are blowing calls because they dont understand whats going on anymore. Every big hit that you see if you see them at all? there is always a penalty and some are very legal but the league has to make a point i guess. the NFL is going downhill..not the same game and some are for it but im old school i guess..i could go on but you young tikes wouldnt understand.

    #I want real football back.

  23. officialgame - Jan 6, 2014 at 11:41 AM

    No, but your brain is.

  24. mgdsquiggy17 - Jan 8, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    “And yes, football’s TV ratings for the upcoming playoffs may show the sport to be back in full swing.”

    Or you know ratings for the fall but hey whatever… I guess they need 100% to be back in full swing.

    http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2014/01/08/34-of-americas-35-most-watched-fall-tv-shows-were-nfl-games/

  25. officialgame - Jan 9, 2014 at 11:18 AM

    34 of America’s 35 top watched shows last year were football games. The author of this piece is an imbecile. He has a similar uneducated and moronic opinion opinion of steroid users and defends their ability to cheat the game.

  26. unclemosesgreen - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:34 PM

    Does your Mommy know that you’re still awake? You’re a very, very naughty little boy.

  27. davidbrentfan - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:40 PM

    F U C K YOU, YOU STUPID B A S T A R D!

  28. cur68 - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:10 AM

    My only regret is that when Craig gets up he’ll ban this douche with his Alex Luthor powers. Mores the pity. The ole blog hasn’t seen this level of reasoned debate since…since.. Well…ever? Even our sadly missed friend Halladaysbicepts used greater tact than this douche.

  29. cur68 - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:12 AM

    aarg! That’s LEX Luthor! Stupid iPhone! Stupid fat fingers!

  30. stex52 - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:05 AM

    Never fails, Cur. Craig lets football fans on the blog and we are left behind to pick up the toys and clean up the poop. You would think we would learn.

  31. yankeesfanlen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:16 AM

    Leave A-Lex alone!

  32. stex52 - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:18 AM

    Boy are you going to be in trouble when Mom finds out what you are posting!!

  33. Jeremiah Graves - Jan 3, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    Yeah, that certainly seems like a level-headed response from a well-adjusted adult and not a Bud Light chugging manchild currently wearing a football jersey and no pants.

  34. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    Ok, that one guy circumventing the swear filter still has his posts up, but you are obviously responding to someone else who got banned.

    What’d I miss?

  35. stex52 - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:08 AM

    Same jerk. I just put my message in the wrong place. Sue me. :-)

  36. unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    Aside from me making the filthiest comment response ever, you missed … nothing. Nothing to see here. Just another of our tragically undereducated youth.

  37. cur68 - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:23 PM

    NEVER!

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