Why is Football Struggling with Attendance While Baseball is Flourishing?


Craig Calcaterra of the Hardball Talk blog, a part of the NBA Sports umbrella, proferred an interesting series of questions yesterday: Is football dying? And has baseball become America’s new favorite pastime . . . again?

Calcaterra points to playoff game fan attendance in support of that hypothesis.

While I don’t necessarily agree with the premise that baseball has surpassed football in terms of the American sports fan’s consciousness, the evidence he points to is at least interesting to consider. It’s no secret that the NFL is struggling to sell their playoff tickets this year. Yesterday morning, there were threats of playoff games being blacked out in three markets because the home teams in Green Bay, Cincinnati and Indianapolis had been unable to sell out. Fewer people are actually going to football games.

Excuse makers might attribute that to the prevalence of high definition television and the ever increasing ability to watch games in the comfort of home as opposed to braving the elements in seats featuring worse views than what can be enjoyed in the living room. It’s a valid argument. But it should work the same for baseball, right?

Yet baseball attendance has been on a dramatic surge, and the MLB certainly didn’t struggle to sell out any of its playoff games, not even those in the coldest of markets.

So what is the difference? Why is football, at a time when it should be showcasing the best of its product on the world stage, instead facing controversial decisions like whether to extend the deadline for a sellout to avoid a television blackout in the Cincinnati market?

I’m not ready to say that football is dying. To me, it’s the one beast in the sports world that cannot be killed, and television ratings for the upcoming Wild Card weekend will probably show huge numbers. But perhaps American society is becoming a little less enthusiastic about its gridiron game. And perhaps that’s happening at exactly the same time it is becoming more enthusiastic about baseball.

One thing we do know, baseball seems to already be winning the fan attendance battle. I wouldn’t be upset if that was the first step toward a long-awaited return to pastime prominence again.

If you’ve got any thoughts on what’s happening with football and baseball attendance, I would love to hear about them in the comments section.

About Matthew George

Matthew George graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2008 with a bachelor of science in journalism. He spent three years writing sports for the Kentucky Kernel, the university's daily paper, and served as assistant sports editor. After undergrad, Matthew attended Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University where he earned his juris doctorate. He is now admitted to practice law in Kentucky and Indiana.

4 thoughts on “Why is Football Struggling with Attendance While Baseball is Flourishing?

  1. Good article with a real interesting topic. It is surprising that baseball attendance has been able to withstand ever-increasing at home experience while football seems to be hit hard at the pro and college levels.

    Since I’m too lazy to google any actual facts, I’m going to assume that tv ratings were quite a bit higher for NFL playoffs than MLB. So instead of being as much about overall popularity I think there are several other factor involved:
    1) Watching football in person sucks/watching football in tv is great. With all the injuries, reviews, and people obsessing about their fantsy teams being in front of a tv has become a much more enjoyable experience.
    2) Even in the cheap seats a fan can still get the full experience while having a decent view (outside of Wrigley of course). From the nose bleeds in an nfl game you might not be sure if you are actually watching football or watching ants run routes.
    3) Ticket prices are more reasonable for baseball.
    4) And, yeah it’s cold in Boston is October, but its -30 in Green Bay this weekend. And the freezing temperature of cheese is 32°F….fact

    I don’t see a seismic shift in popularity happening soon, but it seems as though baseball has been able to find a niche with the in game experience (how novel!) that the nfl is quickly losing.

    • I don’t disagree with anything you just put forward. Particular interesting is that last point – the novelty that in this day and age of tv and the Internet and twitter and etc – that good ole traditional baseball would find its niche with the in-game fan experience.

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