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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. nflpro101 - Jan 3, 2014 at 6:09 AM

    Way to be terrible at your job Craig, this article is embarrassing

    • nbjays - Jan 3, 2014 at 6:18 AM

      Way to be terrible at reading and detecting sarcasm. I’d be the one embarrassed if I was you.

      • ras1tafari - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:07 PM

        What sarcasm? This was serious article by my read. It was waaay off, but the real deal.

      • nbjays - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:20 PM

        Then you need some remedial satire training. The sarcasm and trolling in this piece was very obvious.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:49 PM

        I don’t think you understood. He said “real deal,” man. lol

  2. cowboys2014 - Jan 3, 2014 at 7:35 AM

    LOL you have completely lost your mind. This is comical. TV ratings period. Regular season NFL games had more viewers than a World Series game and it’s actually not even close. I am also a baseball fan but this is the most far fetched, out of line, completely inaccurate article I have ever read.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:46 AM

      That’s because the original argument was from a football fan.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        You can hardly believe your good fortune that this is still brew-ha-ha-ing, eh?

    • ultimatecardinalwarrior - Jan 3, 2014 at 4:15 PM

      Go back to PFT, mouthbreather.

  3. janessa31888 - Jan 3, 2014 at 7:53 AM

    I am amazed at how touchy many football fans are! Too sensitive and thick headed to realize that this is SATIRE!!
    Laughing out loud at their crying and anger. Those of us who are on here regularly know that Craig was poking fun at certain articles that claim baseball is at death’s door.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:47 AM

      He he mouth-breathers

      • jennstergersburnedretinas - Jan 3, 2014 at 11:32 AM

        I have read the comments at HBT for several years and have never felt the need to post because the articles are well written, and Craigs bizarre world PED stance aside, I felt I have had little to add to the conversation. One thing that kills me though is the overall elitist and supercilious tone of the commenters on this site. Whenever football is mentioned you mock and ridicule. It’s pathetic. I could have left this comment in reply to half of the regular posters here which is even more disheartening. Get a life.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 11:39 AM

        Dude, I do not go over to PFT and rail on them. If you don’t like us, you don’t have to talk to us. You can be mad about it, but I don’t have to and won’t like football. I think it’s a dumb sport. I appreciate your literate response, however. :)

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:10 PM

        Whenever football is mentioned you mock and ridicule. It’s pathetic.

        Considering the comments from people with obvious football references in their nick, I think it’s justified. And that’s not even discussing the garbage that’s spewed over at PFT.

      • cur68 - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:19 PM

        If the commentariat over at PFT wasn’t such a collection of dimwits we wouldn’t say anything at all. But what’s more we’re saying it HERE: on our snobby site. We don’t go there and bust their balls and lord knows it’d be easy. Instead they come here and attempt to rank on us. Why don’t you tell THEM to not be such a herd of humourless assholes?

  4. lostsok - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:14 AM

    I can’t imagine life without football or baseball. 90% of my TV viewing is NFL Network or MLB Channel…or games.

    In truth (and yes, I get the piece was satire), all things are both declining and growing in the TV world. More and more viewers, and more and more niches. With streaming and Netflix, the viewership of all things is splintered, and that’s just fine. “To each their own” has never been more appropriate or more grand than in the TV world of 2014.

  5. seabronco - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:26 AM

    Yesterday I commented on the removing field goals article on PFT, saying it was the most retarded thing I’ve ever read. Well I never thought that less than 24 hours later I would have to retract that statement. Because this is THE MOST RETARDED THING IVE EVER READ.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:19 AM

      Has Downs’ Syndrome somehow become a computer virus or are you stuck in the 1930’s?

  6. lkwalk - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Football is about nothing more than selling beer. While there’s still some excellence on the pitch (Peyton Manning comes to mind) there is also an almost gladiatorial appeal to brutality. Add to that the embarrassing foodfight over revenues, the ridiculous salaries and the stupidly high cost of tickets- and you have a recipe for disaster.

    Screw it. I’d rather mow the lawn.

    • jimmyt - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:46 PM

      Good for you, Ma’am.

  7. xerocc - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:36 AM


  8. jhop86 - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    Some of baseballs playoff games would not have sold out if it was -50 degrees

    • doctorofsmuganomics - Jan 3, 2014 at 7:30 PM

      That’s because baseball fans are smart.

  9. mattoneal - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:00 AM

    I don’t think this article was intended as satire. If so, it was very subtle and fell kind of flat in its purpose. There are too many legitimate facts here to be meant in jest. Craig may be stretching his opinions to the limit, and purposely trying to provoke a sports’ fans, but he made some valid points.

    If you want real satire, check out The Onion.

    • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:49 AM

      LMAO! “very subtle” bahahahahahahahahahahahaha

      • indaburg - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:06 AM

        I do not think he knows what the word subtle means.

        Comparing the size of their playing surfaces was too subtle? Really? I guess Craig needed to compare the actual balls to one another? The uniforms? The reaction from football fans is comedy gold.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:07 AM

        Best ab workout ever!

      • Kevin S. - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:32 AM

        Really should have added a part about how it makes no sense to call a game primarily involving holding a ball “football.”

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:37 AM

        But then you have to convert from inches to square feet…foots…foots per yard and all that.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 11:09 AM

      Admit it – you only like the Onion because you didn’t get it at first but now you’re in on the joke after the fact. It’s ok to admit it, we all know it already anyhow.

  10. eshine76 - Jan 3, 2014 at 9:20 AM

    {leaked video of Craig’s reaction when reading the comments for this article}

  11. colv - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:04 AM

    Total BS. Baseball is not a US sport anymore. Look around the league, mostly international players now or players from the islands or Central America that now live here. Baseball is a rich mans sport, and rich big cities dominate. I used to love the game, over priced players, expensive good seats and drugs are a few reasons I don’t watch or go to games anymore. The tax payers are overburdened by these new stadiums, especially in the minor league towns.

    • Kevin S. - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      Let’s count the disconnects here. First, claiming that most players come from much poorer nations then claiming baseball is a rich man’s sport. Then, listing problems with baseball that don’t all apply to football too. You’re absolutely adorable.

      • Kevin S. - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:35 AM

        Excuse me, listing problems *like* they don’t all apply to football, too.

  12. colv - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:06 AM

    Rediculous article. Clearly the author had to reach to scribe this BS. Really playing surfaces make a difference? Dribble.

    • Jonestein - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      Clearly, you don’t frequent this blog. (and I think you meant “drivel”)

  13. drpepper2013 - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    You forgot the most obvious one. The penalties in football. While some fans love the new nfl some hate it. I think over the past ten years or so you have seen a resurgence in the ratings based on the fringe fan. They didnt like the 17-13 games but now that there’s more 38-31 games they like it. They like it cause of offense not the overall game. I personally hate the direction football is headed. Roger good ell is killin a wonderful game. But I also think it will go back in the next few years and those fans that love the game now will slowly go away. Goodell does not wanna lose the mainstream over 40 white fan and with more black quarterbacks comin into the league and with guys like Peyton manning Tom Brady drew Bree’s and so on goin out of the nfl those fans will stop watchin. Some people may disagree and get mad but let’s face it. Cam newton Robert griffin and Colin kapernick don’t get the same calls Brady manning and Bree’s get. I’m not afraid to say it

  14. Jonestein - Jan 3, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    This is an absolute masterpiece, Craig, thanks for making my day.

  15. shyts7 - Jan 3, 2014 at 11:00 AM

    Oh Craig, all I can say is that if you believe that football is dying, you are an idiot. While football may have had some attendence issues recently, they are making that up but the tv revenue. I love baseball to death and will always cheer hard for my Braves, but, as football is a different animal. Baseball is turning into more a regional sport. People tend to follow their teams and once their teams are out of it, they don’t watch. Football is a sport that a lot of people watch even if their teams are out of it. Just look at the ratings of any World Series game 7 vs the Super Bowl.

    • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 11:12 AM

      So you really didn’t read a single comment before weighing in, did you? This is the Jerry Springerization of America. Every mouth-breathing idiot feels like their opinion matters and should be shouted about.

      What exactly is the meaning of the phrase “they are making that up but the tv revenue.”??

      • tved12 - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:38 PM

        Not everybody can be perfect like you unclemosesgreen. It’s funny that you’re ripping a guy who thinks everybody needs to hear their opinion, yet you continue to be a part of forums which are the tool used to advance the, “Jerry Springerization of America.”

        If you don’t like peoples opinions or you don’t think they matter, why do you read them? You are part of the problem, you continue to support forums though you don’t think people should share their opinion…

        Maybe next time you can keep the insults to yourself and be a decent person.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:40 PM

        No thanks. I’m good. You have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about you self-righteous prick.

      • tved12 - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:47 PM

        Yes, I’m the self righteous one. Do you actually know the meaning of self righteous? Sticking up for somebody else is actually quite different.

        That said, I’m just trying to keep things civil. I don’t understand why you would attack somebody for sharing their opinion in a forum. That’s the whole purpose of forums. If you’re really think everybody who shares their opinion is a “mouth-breathing idiot” I just don’t understand why you continue to read the comments? If you’re only hear for the articles, read the article then stop scrolling. Otherwise be respectful that others have an opinion and they can share it, just as you can. If you were actually constructive I wouldn’t have said anything, but you said nothing to add to the conversation, you simply insulted shyts7.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:53 PM

        You know who stands up for idiots’ rights to be idiotic? Other idiots, that’s who. Wear it. Now get back to work.

      • tved12 - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:59 PM

        Lol, that’s clearly all you’ve got. You don’t actually have anything intelligent or decent to say, you just call people names.

        I’m happy to get back to work. It’s nice having a job, house, money, etc… As for you, keep scouring the forums and living the good life. It must be comforting to know that your existence on earth is nothing more than a small footprint on a baseball forum.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:05 PM

        Whoops, thought you were supposed to be Mr. Nice Guy here – standing tall for all of the ninnies who lack for reading comprehension but want to express “opinions” on things they haven’t read or understood. What happened to that guy? Now he’s wildly speculating about my life circumstances & hurling completely random insults which all failed miserably. Slow day for cold calling people who have no desire to talk to you?

      • tved12 - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:10 PM

        How did he not read? He read the article and he commented.

        On another note, lack for reading comprehension? You literally made a grammatical error while you’re trying to make fun of others for the same thing. Brilliant.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:18 PM

        Why don’t you explain my grammatical error to me?

        You aren’t a very careful reader yourself. I told shyts he clearly hadn’t looked at any of the comments before commenting since he was approximately the 200th PFT fan to get it all wrong.

        Let me guess – you’re making cold sales calls and someone was mean to you. Am I close?

      • tved12 - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:34 PM

        Well you’re close, I’m a salesman, but we don’t cold call.

        As for your grammatical error, you said, “lack for reading comprehension.” The correct phrase would be, “lack of reading comprehension.”

        And my reading, I understood your comment, I just thought it was rude. I apologize for the insults earlier, I didn’t mean to get into a pissing match. I just like when the forums are constructive, people can have honest conversations.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:42 PM

        Not only was I being rude, but I meant it, and got my back into it. I make no apologies – I meant what I said. This particular comments section was deluged with angry, uninformed commenters who are new to HBT, and I was attempting to herd all the cattle back to PFT. You can’t be gentle when you’re herding cattle, son.

        PFT is the single worst large NFL blog I’ve ever seen, and HBT is the best large MLB blog I visit. I’ve been on HBT since the beginning and occasionally answer the call to arms.

        People can lack for comprehension, or they can suffer from a lack of comprehension. My phrasing was pedantic at best, but still correct.

      • historiophiliac - Jan 3, 2014 at 1:55 PM

        The best part of that was: “you simply insulted shyts7.” You be nice to the shyts now.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 3, 2014 at 2:06 PM

        The day that I’m nice to the shyts of the world will be the day I’m lobotomized.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 4, 2014 at 8:18 AM

        There are still ppl chiming in how Craig is a fool for the field size argument. It’s actually somewhat troubling. Before commenting I like to read comments – I’m usually relieved if someone said something close to what I was thinking. Then I can just thumb them up & either not comment or briefly amplify or add something.

        These folks don’t read & can’t think. Can you imagine being the 350th comment & saying something the 3rd person already said (and was totally wrong about.) I started out amused. It’s just not funny anymore. I’ve always known that there’s a strong streak of anti-intellectualism in this country but this … it’s beyond the pale. It really is.

        Do you think that teaching these shyts has rendered you less shockable?

      • historiophiliac - Jan 4, 2014 at 12:16 PM

        Nope, I think living in a red/football state took care of that.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 4, 2014 at 12:24 PM

        I see.

        Your avatar makes you look like you carry a magic lasso & commute in an invisible jet.

      • shyts7 - Jan 5, 2014 at 9:44 PM

        Well I would say that it was a typo and should of said making that up with the tv revenue. Kind of happens with autocorrect. Didn’t read the comments. Don’t really have time with working to go through almost 300 comments (at the time).

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 6, 2014 at 5:56 AM

        So you didn’t read the article that was being satirized and you didn’t read a single comment. You didn’t have time for any of that, because you were in an all-fired rush to poorly express your laughably misguided opinion.

        Ding-ding. Jerr-rry! Jerr-rry! Jerr-rry!

        BTW – I’m going to giggle about your “unemployed” comment while I do my taxes and decide how many tens of thousands to set aside in which retirement accounts for the maximum tax benefit. Life just isn’t fair, is it?

      • shyts7 - Jan 5, 2014 at 10:00 PM

        ” you self-righteous prick” I don’t think you know what that means.

        tved12 – That’s what idiots who have nothing to really contribute do. They just attack without ever pointing out what was wrong. I do like the “Jerry Springerization” comment. I laughed a little considering he must be the only person in America to use that term. unclemosesgreen doesn’t have a job, that is why he can go through over 300 comments and nitpick every one of them. But hey, whatever makes his sad pathetic life meaningful. Every forum has some of “those” guys as I’ve heard it called before. They offer nothing. No opinion. No devils advocate. Nothing. They just go through and pick out grammatical errors, calling people idiots, and really never taking a position. They act like they are Pulitzer Prize winning journalist(s), who never makes mistakes, are so self righteous that they think, they should be thinking for the poor dumb lower class folks, and like to make up terms and think they are so smart for making up that term. They essentially think they are the king of the forum. If you want to call someone and idiot for their opinion and then follow it up with why their opinion is dumb, I have no problem with that. But as any college graduate who has had to take a philosophy class can tell you, if you call a person and their opinion dumb and proceed to attack grammatical mistakes, then that person really has to argument and is just trying to take the audience attention away from the fact that they have no argument.

      • shyts7 - Jan 6, 2014 at 2:37 PM

        “I’m going to giggle about your “unemployed” comment while I do my taxes and decide how many tens of thousands to set aside in which retirement accounts for the maximum tax benefit. Life just isn’t fair, is it?”

        Yet again another laughable comment. You have so much time because you are so rich. I’m sure you just have multi million dollar deals just ready to go. That’s why you have so much time to scour Hardballtalk forums. Stop acting like you are so high and mighty. Most people who claim to be so rich are not. But that is neither here nor there. If it was satire, hey he got me. Craig’s writing is so bad, that most people can’t tell whether he is being serious and being comical.

        Now get back to your taxes and tens of thousands of dollars Scrooge McDuck.

      • unclemosesgreen - Jan 6, 2014 at 2:39 PM

        Jerr-ry! Jerr-ry! Jerr-ry!

  16. pariseinminnesotabichez - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Give me a break, Football > Baseball, baseball games are really boring

  17. txraiderfan - Jan 3, 2014 at 12:48 PM

    No, but Roger Goodel is trying to kill it

  18. phillyphannnn83 - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:11 PM

    To be honest, the real losers here are those who act like they’re “enlightened” when a good portion of those did not get it right away until reading some of the comments, but even worse than that, they’re claiming sides between baseball fans and football fans. What kind of loser only likes one sport? Where did this “sport-divide” come from? I’m a sports fan. I like football. I like baseball. I like hockey. I like basketball. I like soccer. I like wiffle ball. I like dodgeball. I like tennis. I like table tennis. I like Foosball. I like skiing. There are really some of you who think you’re better than someone else because you’re only a baseball fan? Yeah, keep looking down on others. Maybe you should look up sometime.

  19. timpaz - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:34 PM

    I agree NFL is losing its popularity, but I think it’s because of lack of Quality football, other than 3 or 4 teams the NFL teams are mediocre and boring to watch , give a good MLB game anytime

  20. tvguy22 - Jan 3, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    LOL. Way to generate clicks.

  21. newenglandynasty - Jan 3, 2014 at 5:43 PM

    The country is dying not football

  22. newenglandynasty - Jan 3, 2014 at 5:45 PM

    Another liberal spewing his hate on United States traditions

  23. braxtonrob - Jan 3, 2014 at 6:37 PM

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

  24. Jeff - Jan 3, 2014 at 7:10 PM

    Unfortunately not.

  25. extavernmouse - Jan 3, 2014 at 8:37 PM

    The real reason football is dying is that nobody wants their kid to play it anymore. The concussion problem is so bad that parents see that it’s just too violent. I know baseball has the problem too, but not nearly as bad. Once boxing was America’s biggest sport but look where it is now. Football is headed that direction.

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