Skip to content

Is football dying?

Jan 2, 2014, 3:32 PM EST

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Marlins acquire Aaron Crow from Royals

    Nov 28, 2014, 12:23 PM EST

    Aaron Crow AP

    Crow made the All-Star team as a rookie in 2011.

  2. Shane Victorino says he should be the Red Sox’ starting right fielder

    Nov 28, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    Shane Victorino Getty Getty Images

    And he’d like you to tell him who’s a better option.

  3. Pedro Strop was involved in an accident in the Dominican Republic

    Nov 28, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

    Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds Getty Images

    He’s reportedly uninjured, though details are scarce at the moment.

  4. Royals re-sign Jason Frasor for $1.8 million

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:47 AM EST

    Houston Astros v Texas Rangers Getty Images

    Barring some trades he’ll fill a middle relief role for the bullpen-rich Royals in 2015.

  5. Not so fast on the Cardinals’ reported interest in Jon Lester

    Nov 28, 2014, 10:15 AM EST

    Jon Lester AP

    “Their interest in the lefty appears as much opportunistic as enthusiastic.”

  6. A.J. Hinch likes horrible and awful things for Thanksgiving dinner

    Nov 28, 2014, 8:15 AM EST

    Jell-O salad

    Won’t somebody think of A.J. Hinch’s children?

  7. Justin Masterson is all over the AL Central radar

    Nov 27, 2014, 9:20 PM EST

    masterson getty Getty Images

    The AL Central seems to be particularly fond of free agent pitcher Justin Masterson.

  8. Padres drawing a lot of interest in their catchers

    Nov 27, 2014, 8:15 PM EST

    Rene Rivera Rene Rivera

    The Padres have three worthy catchers and all of them are drawing trade interest.

  9. Billy Butler takes out a full-page newspaper ad to thank Royals fans

    Nov 27, 2014, 7:10 PM EST

    New York Yankees v Kansas City Royals Getty Images

    Billy Butler, now with the Athletics, thanked Royals fans for an “amazing ride” in Kansas City.

  10. Brandon Moss, Allen Craig on Marlins’ first base radar

    Nov 27, 2014, 6:05 PM EST

    Brandon Moss AP

    A couple more options have appeared on the Marlins’ radar for an upgrade at first base.

  11. 2015 Free Agent Tracker

    Nov 27, 2014, 4:00 PM EST

    Jon Lester Jon Lester

    Your one-stop shop for all of the offseason signings.

  12. Dave Martinez is moving toward a reunion with Joe Maddon

    Nov 27, 2014, 10:15 AM EST

    Dave Martinez Getty Images

    Martinez was passed over for the manager job in Tampa Bay.

  13. Pablo Sandoval says goodbye to the Giants and their fans on his Instagram account

    Nov 26, 2014, 10:04 PM EST

    sandoval getty Getty Images

    Here’s the farewell Instagram post from third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who signed a five-year, $98 million free agent contract with the Red Sox earlier this week …

  14. Royals acquire infielder Ryan Jackson from Dodgers

    Nov 26, 2014, 8:18 PM EST

    ryan jackson getty Getty Images

    Jackson was limited to 11 minor league games in 2014 due to a right wrist injury that ultimately required surgery.

  15. Padres, Dodgers have discussed a Matt Kemp trade

    Nov 26, 2014, 6:43 PM EST

    matt kemp getty Getty Images

    From FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal comes word that the Padres have shown interest in trading for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp …

  16. Yasmany Tomas signs a six-year, $68.5 million deal with the Diamondbacks

    Nov 26, 2014, 5:10 PM EST

    yasmany tomas getty Getty Images

    The Dbacks were not in the picture until very recently. But better late than never.

  17. Thought experiment: How many MLB teams would wipe the slate clean?

    Nov 26, 2014, 4:25 PM EST

    CC Sabathia AP AP

    Since there’s no such thing as a stupid question …

  18. The Wrigley Field bleachers may not be ready for Opening Day

    Nov 26, 2014, 3:58 PM EST

    Wrigley Bleachers

    Don’t tell the people who like to hang out in the bleachers. They may not realize it, actually.

Featured video

Maddon has high hopes for Cubs
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. P. Sandoval (5071)
  2. H. Ramirez (4424)
  3. Y. Tomas (4119)
  4. J. Lester (3104)
  5. C. Headley (2746)
  1. Y. Cespedes (2303)
  2. M. Kemp (2205)
  3. A. LaRoche (1769)
  4. C. Hamels (1766)
  5. J. Upton (1704)