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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. drewsylvania - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:57 PM

    Aaaand I missed the satire. In my defense, Craig goes ape-pucky over every single thing he writes about, so it is impossible to tell satire when he writes it.

    I mean, he goes off on Chass all the time. Chass’ stuff reads like satire, too.

  2. drewsylvania - Jan 2, 2014 at 6:58 PM

    This post is a failure simply because nobody reads the bit in italics after any post.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:50 AM

      No, you’re a failure because you aren’t very smart. And who the hell says “ape-pucky”??? You couldn’t have embarrassed yourself any worse. Just. Go. Away.

  3. juiceonfire - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:02 PM

    Baseball has been dead since the 90’s along with basketball….. Don’t be and cause football makes you hate your job and what you have to cover. Baseball is so boring to watch in person and on tv. Nothing any stadium can give me to make me go to a baseball game and watch that snooze feat

    • frank433 - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:28 PM

      In English, please.

    • damer3 - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:47 AM

      No, no! Baseball is better on TV because you get the replays – yes, it may be slow at times, but there is a lot of strategy and tension there. My husband and I attend several times a year at Rockies games (and how masochistic is that?). .

      So here is my take: College is where all these athletes get their training (except for baseball, maybe) and in my mind, the NFL is reaping the benefits of an unpaid training program. Gonzaga, for example closed down their football program, and now has other, less expensive and less damaging sports, and I think that between the brain injury issue, with fewer parents signing up their kids, and college players asking to be paid, football may not be as important in the future. If players ask to be paid, the football program will be even more demanding on the operating budgets of colleges. After all, in Div. I football, which I believe is over 200 teams, only 46 teams make money, the rest need support. It is not defensible. My daughter is a faculty member of a small college. They do not have a football program but if they did, I bet she and other faculty members would be very upset to see other members of the teaching staff make millions when they make maybe $50,000.

  4. musketmaniac - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:04 PM

    lol, the people on here who try to correct peoples grammar and spelling have got to be some of lowest creatures. you small minded morons won’t win arguments or gain support for your theories by correcting others grammar. you just make yourself look like an idiot

    • clemente2 - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:07 PM

      lol
      peoples
      some of lowest
      you
      others
      you
      idiot_

      Writes itself.

      • jrobitaille23 - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:04 PM

        case in point. Oh the irony :(

      • cur68 - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:17 AM

        jr you wouldn’t know irony if irony was a Rottweiler and it was biting you on the ass.

  5. polesmike - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:07 PM

    Take time to ponder this, The NFL is tax exempt, yet they want you to pay thousands as a license agreement. They don’t care how loyal the fan has been, they want you to put up your hard earned money for your seat. It’s no longer good enough to purchase season tickets now you have to pay extra for the seat. Why should the fan have to pay for a multi billionaire’s new stadium. Why don’t they go to the tax exempt NFL and take a loan? Now on top of this they are making it a flag football league. Why can’t the rule state that you can tackle from the shoulder to the top of the knee, anything else is a penalty. Stopped watching a lot of football because of the above greed.

    • albertmn - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:47 PM

      As far as seat licenses, it is unfortunately the law of supply and demand. As long as someone is still buying the tickets, they can keep charging a high cost and PSLs. Really, the same could be said for stadiums. If their current city won’t pay for it, some other city will.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      That’s actually a good point, and you sound like a football fan. Thank you for being the exception that proves the rule.

  6. keltictim - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:09 PM

    Wow. Baseball writers are more insecure than a slightly chubby teenage girl with acne. Unless the whole column was just a joke because there is no baseball news right now. If that’s the case than well done sir.

    • damer3 - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:50 AM

      Now there is a nasty and sexist statement.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:53 AM

      Wow. You’re an idiot. Just, wow. Seriously, go punch yourself in the face.

  7. zinger99 - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:11 PM

    Football is only popular because it’s played once a week(Party!),fantasy football and gambling. The game can’t stand on its own. Football is checkers,baseball is chess.

  8. seattlenative57 - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:29 PM

    Answering the headline? Not even close.

  9. juiceonfire - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    To the guy that asked why baseball players get paid more it’s cause they don’t have a salary cap and football does why pay a guy one player 200 million dollars is stupid baseball needs big deals like that to get people to pay attention and talk about how freaking stupid these teams are for forking out that money…..

    • billyboots - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:57 PM

      Learn how to use the “reply” button, please. Do you really think “the guy” you identified has any idea you are writing this?

      • phillyphannnn83 - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:40 PM

        Get a clue billyboots, this website has an app and the app doesn’t have a reply button. But its only been out for over a year, why would you know about it.

  10. ironman721 - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:46 PM

    Don’t drink the kool-aid

  11. missingdiz - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:58 PM

    I never understood how football survived after George Carlin’s comparison of it with baseball. But now that I’ve seen how so many football fans completely missed Craig’s joke, I think I get it.
    Here’s Carlin’s routine: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/humor7.shtml. Be safe at home!

    • Professor Fate - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:07 AM

      Always upvote any positive reference to Carlin.

  12. janessa31888 - Jan 2, 2014 at 7:59 PM

    Go Baseball!!! The NFL team nearest me is the Browns so you can understand why I have come to hate football season.

  13. youalltalktoomuch - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:07 PM

    • missingdiz - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:17 PM

      Thank you, “you”

    • jrobitaille23 - Jan 2, 2014 at 10:08 PM

      love this guy. so wrong about this, but usually hilarious.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:55 AM

        He would have hated you. Like everyone else you come across. They. All. Hate. You.

        He had entire routines that were specifically about human scum like you. Go heel youself in your tiny tiny balls.

  14. mrlaloosh - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:13 PM

    Gee Craig, couldn’t wait to get to Colorado and try out the chronic? Only explanation I can think of for this stupid post. Pass the Doritos.

  15. joerevs300 - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:25 PM

    Yeah, football is SO DYING…so much so that a THURSDAY NIGHT game between Minnesota and the Giants (who had exactly ONE WIN between them) outdrew the World Series.

    And obviously Craig failed math class too considering your average baseball ticket is light years cheaper then your NFL tickets, and baseball has 162 games for attendance and the NFL only has 8 home games.

    So, yeah. Keep thinking that all you want, but if anything baseball’s in danger of becoming an afterthought, especially because they can’t keep the game clean. You don’t hear about steroids in the NFL anymore, as they actually have a drug testing system that works.

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:29 PM

      ” You don’t hear about steroids in the NFL anymore, as they actually have a drug testing system that works.”

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHA

      oh god, my sides

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:08 PM

      You don’t hear about steroids in the NFL anymore, as they actually have a drug testing system that works.

      Just a sampling of this last year:

      Von Miller paid a testor to swap Miller’s urine with someone else’s. Miller got a 6 game suspension.
      Seattle Seahawk CB Brandon Browner is suspended indefinitely, meaning he’s been caught multiple times, for PED use
      Kellen Winslow II suspended 4 games for PED use
      LaRoy Reynolds suspended 4 games for PED use
      Mike Goodson suspended 4 games for PED use

      27 total suspended players this year for PED and non-PED use.

    • carpi2 - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:15 PM

      I heard a report that 7 Sea hawk players were suspended this year for “substance abuse” issues. Of course the NFL keeps close to their chests what specific substances were abused.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:58 AM

      Somehow, in a deep dark forest of imbecility, you managed to shine an unusually bright beacon of idiocy. Also, your CaPs LoCk might be broken.

  16. fearthehoody - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:28 PM

    NFL is my #1 and MLB my 1A, but MLB is in the decline my friend. NFL is getting worse by the season, but MLB is below the NFL, NCAA football, NBA (sadly). People are slowly turning from the NFL, myself included. But there is no other sport close to taking that #1 spot anytime soon.

  17. akkard - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:38 PM

    I hate baseball so much. Could never stand to watch a game. Only the Olympic sport of ‘curling’ is more boring.

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:04 PM

      Congrats. Nobody cares. I’m only posting here so I can look down on you, smugly as all doctors do.

  18. musketmaniac - Jan 2, 2014 at 8:48 PM

    clemente2 over a 150 posts on here, and you chose mine to argue. nice you must be some low rent school teacher making 40,000 a year. must be satisfying correcting people when you can’t afford to buy a descent ride.

    • missingdiz - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:02 PM

      musket–had you respected your low-rent school teacher you might not be such a flaming idiot now.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:04 AM

        Yes, but he can still afford the down elevator (“descent ride” he he).

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:59 AM

      In fairness to clemente2, it must have been difficult to choose just one complete moron in this raging lunatic sea of stupidity. But you’ll do just fine.

  19. Minoring In Baseball - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:09 PM

    Whether the NFL is dying or whatever, I have no idea, and I could care less. Baseball will always trump football for many reasons. I’ve always thought of football as the lazy fans sport. Very easy to follow, easy to commit yourself just once or twice a week, and make a ‘big deal’ out of each game to prove what a great fan you are.
    Baseball is the thinking man’s game, therefore is it much more difficult to follow, more difficult to understand the complex rules, and so on. For younger kids, it is also much more difficult to play and learn. We simply are living in a lazy society, and even the sports fans are jumping on the lazy sport band wagon. If someone states that they don’t enjoy a baseball game, the fact is that they probably haven’t taken the time to understand it. Real baseball fans can hang on almost every pitch, knowing there is almost infinite possibilities when the ball leaves the pitchers hand.
    I could personally care less about the NFL vs MLB argument, too. Those two leagues are not the end all and be all of their sports. I prefer to take my family to the minor league games, where the tickets are much cheaper, the seats and sightlines are better, and the players more personable.
    Baseball>football. It’s as simple as that. Or, I should say it’s NOT simple. And that’s the whole point.

    http://minoringinbaseball.com/

  20. musketmaniac - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:15 PM

    One of my English teachers killed himself along with his wife. Another did time for molesting his students. How I managed to get thru college was a bit of a mystery, however my poor grammar has yet to affect the way I run my two businesses. but my point was that this is like texting.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:05 AM

      Sure, honey. Here’s your sippy cup.

    • phillyphannnn83 - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:45 PM

      Everyone knows the internet is full of people using shorthand, except the so-called “enlightened ones” who believe in proper grammar and punctuation at all times.

  21. jackm79 - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:20 PM

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    HAhaHahAHahahahahAhahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahHahHahHHahahahahHahahahahahahahahahahaha.

    You must be joking. Either that or you’re an idiot!

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:26 PM

      There are so many people posting I wish would get picked off by natural selection. Namely those who don’t seem to be able to comprehend basic satire.

      I mean, you all keep me in business as a smug internet doctor, and I thank you. But Jesus on the Christ, dude.

  22. kcw0lf - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    To rule out cost as a reason that teams are not selling out playoff games is ridiculous. If a nfl ticket was the same price as a baseball ticket, they would all be sellouts.

  23. yahmule - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:31 PM

    I have purposely avoided reading any of the posts yet, but the voluminous number tells me some people don’t know when they’re being goaded.

    Nice job, Calcatrolling there, Craig.

  24. pftbillsfan - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:42 PM

    You completely ignore revenue, and ratings. Oh and marketing sales.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:04 AM

      And you can’t recognize simple satire…

  25. woahtoya - Jan 2, 2014 at 9:45 PM

    Football has some inherent advantages over other sports at this second:

    1) It’s a game created in America, played almost solely in America, typically by Americans.
    — Baseball is truly a world game with many of it’s best players unable to speak English

    2) Football has a huge advantage in schedule. The NFL plays once a week for 21 weeks, which helps create a rabid sense of can’t-miss television
    — Baseball’s season is 6 days a week over 29 weeks. It’s actually amazing baseball fills their stadiums as well as they do. Especially in mid-July.

    3) Football is simpler to follow. The game planning isn’t really what I’m talking about. Anyone can watch & blame the quarterback, see a hold, or yell at the TV about an early hit.
    — Most people are so baseball illiterate now-a-days they don’t understand the game well enough to follow it correctly, because they were bad at it and quit at the age of 8.

    4) Football is easier to be good at. With 9 different possible positions with varying skill needed, it’s way easier to be good at something. People like being good at stuff.
    — Each position in baseball requires a relatively similar skill set: Catching, Fielding, Throwing, Hitting.

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