The NFL is king. Or, at least it’s king on television. No matter your sports allegiance, it’s an undeniable fact. To put this in perspective, the Conference Championship games this past weekend averaged 53.7 million, making it the most watched Conference Championship Sunday since 1982. The Giants-Niners game on FOX drew 57.6 million viewers to rank as the third most-watched conference championship, ever.
The Ravens, Patriots game pulled in 48.7 million on CBS.
What did Game 6 of the World Series last season draw? 21.06 million viewers, or less than half the Conference Championship Sunday average.
When I published my article for Baseball Prospectus last week (see Selig’s To-Do List), one commenter declared that Selig should be blamed for allowing the NFL’s ascension to surpass baseball on television.
It’s not Selig’s fault. It’s an awful lot about timing.
What I mean is this: the growth in the NFL’s popularity can be tied closely to the television becoming a commonplace household appliance, and Pete Rozell’s brilliance in making the NFL part of the American landscape on the weekends and Monday night.
It’s also about the game’s design.
The NFL is the only Big-4 sport (up until MLB adds the additional Wild Card teams) that thrives on “win, or go home”—every game in the postseason is sudden death. That lends itself to the excitement which boosts the ratings and viewership needle.
Another thing is the field and timed play. With almost full adoption of theater-aspect ratio to television screens, it’s as if the football field was designed for HD. Throw in that in today’s fast paced society, fans know that on the weekend, games will start and end (unless OT), right around the same time.
It’s a formula that works. We can argue about whether the best team really wins any given playoff game. We can talk about whether the sport has the same level of intellect as others. But, no one—not Selig, or anyone else—can alter baseball in the near-term to get to the NFL’s excitement level.
And, maybe it’s how it should be.
Major League Baseball is incredibly popular. Is it as popular on television? No. Is it a better experience in person? Many would argue that.
But, baseball should never rush to alter its core design all in an attempt to be competitive with the NFL in terms of television. There are massive, and insanely lucrative national broadcast deals on the horizon for MLB. That shows that the game is still a winner with the likes of ESPN, FOX, and TBS, and more importantly, the fans. Being second isn’t a bad place to be.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He writes for Baseball Prospectus and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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