The Major League Baseball playoffs are getting close to crunch time as the World Series will get underway shortly. Throughout much of the MLB playoffs I have noticed Fox Sports and TBS advertising the games that are coming up. Finding sports viewers that prefer the MLB Playoffs over NFL and college football can sometimes be a challenge. Even though the baseball playoff games are much more meaningful it is still the case that diehard sports fans would rather see action packed football even though the NFL is not even halfway through the season. The college football season is hitting the halfway point and SEC football games are getting TV ratings that are better than some of the baseball playoff games. Why is football so popular in the United States when compared to baseball?
Baseball is a Very Long Season
The major league baseball season starts around April 1st of every year. The college baseball season starts in late February. This means baseball fans can start consuming baseball before the snow has melted in some areas of the country. College baseball concludes with the College World Series in late May and early June. Fans that want to continue to watch baseball will have the opportunity to watch professional baseball games all the way through the summer and into the months of September and October. This means baseball season spans the seasons on spring, summer and fall. There are no other sports that span more than one and a half seasons.
When I was younger I throughly enjoyed playing fantasy baseball as it gave me something to do during the summer months. I grew up in a very rural area and there was not much going on. Instead of getting in trouble I decided to hop on the Internet and find a game that allowed me to use my number crunching skills. There were years in the mid 1990s when I was one of the top 100 players in fantasy baseball. I used to check the stats on a daily basis and I could predict who was going to have an amazing year on the mound. As the years passed I realized that fantasy baseball took way too long.
When playing fantasy baseball in the 1990s you had to adjust your team on a daily basis. There are often players that get placed on the 15 day DL or will sit out a few games causing an entire fantasy baseball team to struggle. If you were not willing to check your fantasy baseball team at least three times a week there was a good chance that you would end up getting beat by the team owner that had the time to simply update his team with players that were in a lineup. These owners didn’t have a better team, they just had the ability to update on any given day.
This process helped me to realize just how long and time consuming baseball was and is. Baseball games take around three or four hours to complete and there is a lot of downtime. There are 18 interruptions in the game with an interruption coming after just three outs. There are interruptions in football but it tends to be after something exciting has happened. Teams call a timeout or slow down the game when the other team is scoring or about to score. In baseball, an interruption can come when nothing happened in an inning. For the younger generation, this can be very boring.
The NFL Season is Short Enough to Stay Interesting
The NFL season starts in September and concludes during the final week of January or the first week of February. What makes the NFL very interesting is there are only 16 games in a regular season. This means that fans of a particular team have the opportunity to watch eight home games. Compare this to 81 home games during a major league baseball season. It is often true that people will be more excited about something that happens eight times a year when compared to something that happens 81 times a year.
Something else interesting about the NFL is the anticipation that is built for each game. ESPN and other sports channels now have hours of coverage leading up to the games on Sunday. When I was a child it was only Sunday morning TV shows that previewed this week’s games. Now we see shows every day of the week. There are shows that document the injuries for each specific team. Personally, I feel as if this is too much but some NFL fans absolutely love it. They only get 16 weeks to enjoy their team so they are going to soak up as much information as possible.
NFL fans are armed with plenty of knowledge when the game comes around. They know which team is expected to win, they know who is on the injured reserve and they know the weather conditions. Fantasy Football has truly changed the way some of these avid fans consume the game. If they know the weather in Pittsburgh is going to be cold and windy they can guess the two quarterbacks in the game are not going to have great stats. The defenses and kickers in this game might end up being the stars of the show. The numbers game that is Fantasy Football has encouraged fans to watch more games and consume more content related to the sport.
What I have come to realize, over the last decade, is that fans are not watching just the NFL to understand Fantasy Football and the growth of their favorite team. They are watching the college game as well, because they know in the near future these college players will be on their team. It is amazing to see how many NFL message boards will analyze specific college players to fit the needs of the team. Once again, this is taking it a little too far for me but it happens every day of the football season.
Will the World Series Garner Interest?
The St Louis Cardinals have a very large following. This means the World Series will get some interest from fans of the National League. As much as people say they want a different team in the World Series or Super Bowl, they really do not. The ratings show that more people watch when the most popular teams are in major events. The best thing for Major League Baseball will be a St Louis Cardinals vs Boston Red Sox World Series. This would get the best ratings and it would bring in a few fan bases that normally would not watch. The Red Sox being in the World Series would put New York Yankees fans in their seats hoping the Red Sox lose. If the Red Sox were not in the World Series Yankees fans would care a lot less.
One of the biggest problems for the World Series is the expansion of the college football and NFL season. There are now NFL football games on Monday night, Thursday night and all of Sunday. College football games are on Thursday and Friday Night and all day Saturday. This does not leave a whole lot of time for sports fans to watch baseball. Even when the World Series is on I still devote the majority of my TV consumption to college football. If there is a good college football game on TV it always trumps the World Series or any type of baseball. This is all too common with my generation.
Major League Baseball has also been slow to react to the technology era in which we live. Baseball is a traditional sport and a large majority of fans are not in their teens and twenties. This is much different from football. When you visit a college football or NFL stadium on any weekend you will find many age groups represented. When going to a baseball stadium it is often the case that adults and seniors are the ones that are at these events.
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+ have changed the way people talk about sports. While the MLB is trying to increase interest on social media they don’t even hold a candle to the NFL and college football. The MLB Twitter account has 3.2 million followers while the NFL Twitter account has 5.2 million followers. The distance is even more significant when we compare college football to college baseball. This means the younger generation is actively engaging about football online but not as much when it comes to baseball.
The World Series will be a big event for Major League Baseball this year. With the Cardinals playing in the series there should be plenty of interest. Whether or not the MLB can parlay this interest into something bigger has yet to be seen. Over time it will be interesting to watch to see if the MLB can meet the challenges they have.