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Pro football is America’s favorite sport for the 30th straight year

Jan 27, 2014, 9:59 AM EDT


At the beginning of the month I wrote a post entitled “Is Football Dying?” It was a direct parody of the many “Baseball is dying” stories you see each fall. Indeed, it directly tracked the format and followed the same reasoning as a New York Times column to that effect, only switching baseball and football around.

I thought the parody was so obvious that it didn’t need to be explicitly identified as a parody. Yet a lot of people took it seriously. A lot of people — including some who really should know better; including some who openly lauded that Times column when it came out — actually thought I was arguing that football was somehow on the decline and found the conclusion and the reasoning preposterous. And they were mad about it.

I’m not exactly sure what to take from that experience. I know baseball fans, myself included, can be a little sensitive when people criticize the sport. But that sensitivity is rooted in the awareness that, yes, a sport can decline. Baseball was once the alpha-sport in the country and it wasn’t even close. Now, while it is certainly healthy on its own terms, it is clearly secondary or even tertiary depending on how you measure it. And of course there are no small number of people, both inside and outside of the game, who openly wonder about its health and talk about it as if it might die at some point for reasons both silly and legitimate. It’s worth disabusing people of faulty notions about baseball’s health because the claims of its poor health are often rooted in reality.

But where does the sensitivity of football fans come from? And make no mistake, there was no small amount of sensitivity in the wake of my “Is Football Dying” post. Go back and read the comments and some blog posts by others responding to it who didn’t get the joke. Football is so clearly and ridiculously more popular than any other sport in this country that even a serious suggestion that it is in decline should be laughed off rather than argued with on its own terms. Concussions? A random early-round delay in selling out a playoff game? Smack talk and the casual racism of fans who hate such smack talk? They are things worth talking about (and the concussion issue is indeed serious) but even I, a known football hater, would never suggest that they’ll make a dent in the National Football League’s hegemony.

And that hegemony is solidly in place. ESPN reports that, for the 30th straight year, the NFL is the most popular sport in America according to the annual Harris poll:

In 2014, 35 percent of fans call the NFL their favorite sport, followed by Major League Baseball (14 percent), college football (11 percent), auto racing (7 percent), the NBA (6 percent), the NHL (5 percent) and college basketball (3 percent).

In 1985, the first year the poll was taken, the NFL bested MLB by just one percentage point (24 to 23 percent), but since then interest in baseball has fallen while the NFL has experienced a huge rise in popularity.

In the face of that and at a time when it is almost impossible to escape talk of the Super Bowl and everything that surrounds it, one wonders what animates anyone who actually gets prickly and defensive if it is suggested, even in jest, that not everything is perfect in the National Football League. Yet those people are all over the place. Wait until there are about 30 comments on this post. They’ll be here too to defend their sport, despite the fact that is damn nigh invincible and in no need of a serious defense.

Oh well. There’s no accounting for people’s feelings. Even partisans of insanely popular things sometimes worry when a small minority does not feel the same way they do about that which they love.

Just ask Nickelback fans.

123 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. jbaxt - Jan 27, 2014 at 12:54 PM

    I also love this clowns take on Nickelback, as to diminish the general hatred towards his lack if substance he attacks a successful band who makes millions, while he writes in his diary. Hilarious!

    • historiophiliac - Jan 27, 2014 at 2:05 PM

      Thank you for this. It’s too beautiful.

  2. Joe Vecchio - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:15 PM

    Football seems more like a cult than a sport now, to me

    • manuntd60 - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:30 PM

      You are all fools, if you believe what mainstream sports media spouts in the USA you are nuts….look at your tv now on the weekend,soccer is king and it will surpass the throwball game.

      • APBA Guy - Jan 27, 2014 at 6:16 PM

        I love this comment! Is it snark, is he serious? Either way, very funny.

        I certainly prefer English football to American football, and across the globe I believe soccer is more popular by a huge margin. But not in the States.

        Maybe I love this comment so much because my girlfriend’s daughter calls it “throwball” too.

  3. capone888 - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:53 PM

    Football and soccer will always be more popular because they are played less. A football season has 16 games per team per season, baseball…162. People seem to lose interest in things when it is more available to them.

    Football and soccer allows your desire to grow more because you have to wait longer for the games. Baseball on the other hand is played everyday (for the most part). This kills the desire level and decreases popularity. If baseball was played only 16 times a year (for your favorite team that is), you would find it alot more interesting and popular.

    Baseball is too long of a season, and there are too many games played a year by each team to keep popularity up.

    Even if you ate your favorite food each night, you would soon fine it is no longer your favorite. It is all about moderation.

  4. anxovies - Jan 27, 2014 at 1:57 PM

    You wonder if the NY Times writer knows that baseball exists outside of Fox Sports ESPN and TBS. He is probably unaware that 75 million people actually go to MLB games every year and millions more attend minor league games in places that exist outside of Manhattan. Every Major League team and many minor league teams broadcast their games locally. Millions of people pay a sizable chunk of money outside of their entertainment package to watch baseball on and cable. The people who vote with their feet and wallets have chosen baseball.

  5. louhudson23 - Jan 27, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    More people watch and listen to baseball than any other US professional sport. Home and away TV and Radio broadcasts of each teams 162 game season,plus MLB’s own packages,not to mention the 80 million who attend MLB games in person each season,and considering the Minor Leagues are professionals as well,you may as well count the millions who will attend those games (and listen on radio),as well. . Asking your average yimyap what his/her favorite sport is is rather useless information,other than learning what is the most socially acceptable and peer pressure proof answer most can come up with…Obviously the NFL is hugely popular,mostly due to its social nature and the limited amount of commitment needed to be a casual fan,plus the true followers of the game ,plus the betting actors…..but it ain’t baseball….

  6. km9000 - Jan 27, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    My beef with football isn’t so much that fans seem to prefer it to baseball. It’s the stranglehold it has on general sports media all year round. Week-by-week breakdowns of the schedule when it comes out, obsessional score predictions, press conferences with hot-headed coaches, arrests, mock drafts, mock drafts of mock drafts…

    • moogro - Jan 27, 2014 at 7:21 PM

      So little of football coverage is edifying or enlightening. And it’s ubiquitous coverage only leads to the stupidity stacked higher and wider. Once they go beyond slow motion Steve Sabol films it is almost always going to be a misstep.

  7. manningfor6 - Jan 27, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Go Broncos!!

    • km9000 - Jan 27, 2014 at 10:03 PM

      Hey, no selfies.

  8. elvin2014 - Jan 27, 2014 at 6:26 PM

    I LOVE Baseball….

    Baseball is The Most Interesting and Beautiful SPORT in The World….

  9. mlbfeces - Feb 1, 2014 at 6:34 PM

    Yeah, football is so popular that they have to hype up commercials to get people to watch the Super Bowl! That doesn’t sound like being real popular when you have to lure viewers with commercials to watch the biggest Football game of the year! Take away the hyped up commercials and let’s see how many will actually watch the game!

  10. footballer4ever - Feb 5, 2014 at 2:45 PM

    Football is my favorite without a doubt, but it’s round-ball football, not the eggball shaped “football”.

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