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Monday, February 22, 2016

400% Better than Football

About a week back yet another football zombie asked me why I watch baseball which he characterized as "a dying sport." It was an off the cuff comment by someone who really hasn't paid attention to how much baseball has grown over the last decade or two and has probably never even been to a ballpark - much less a game. Still, it set me to thinking. I know that baseball stomps football year in and year out as far as attendance; I just didn't know how much. So, I decided to look and provide myself, and the six whole people reading this blog, a general breakdown.

First, let's look at minor league attendance. I couldn't where someone added them all up, but the last ten years through 2014 were all over 41,000,000 for affiliated teams. Here's the actual attendance per each affiliated team for 2015 so you can add them up if you want. I'm just going to be lazy and assume a nice, round 40,000,000. On top of that there were at least 6,000,000 fans who attended unaffiliated leagues. So minor leagues had at least 46,000,000 attendees last year.

Second, let's look at MLB attendance. As I add these numbers up, I get an attendance in the Majors of approximately 73,000,000.

So, the total attendance for all of professional baseball is somewhere above 119,000,000.

Now, let's look at the NFL. As I add these numbers up, I get an attendance at NFL games of up to about 17,000,000.

Of course, you also have to add in college numbers if you are talking about football fans. Of course, football at colleges may be slowly starting to crumble (It's sad when the best spin you can put out is that at least this year you lost fewer attendees than you have been), but for the foreseeable future it will retain large numbers. Division I, Football Bowl Subdivision had attendance of up to about 6,000,000. I'm going to assume that all the rest of college  football (Div. I FCS thru Div. III) gets 6,000,000 too (almost assuredly wildly overestimating). Altogether, that puts college football at 12,000,000.

So, the total attendance for all football is somewhere below 29,000,000.

Doing the math, that means 90,000,000 more fans went to baseball games than football games last year. If I do the math right, baseball attendance was 400% that of football.

Of course, a large part of this is the number of games each year that baseball has as opposed to football. However, baseball has also been more nimble, adapting to better to times and circumstances.  The affiliated minor leagues have boomed and to a certain extent the independent leagues have as well; the Frontier League just keeps chugging along and new leagues keep trying to form to fill gaps. It doesn't hurt that minor league ball has a positive impact on local economies (unlike almost any major league team of any kind).

As well, baseball adapted to the internet quicker as a useful resource for fans (as well as an income generator). was a brilliant way of keeping fans connected to their major league teams and allowing them to follow the sport generally. accomplishes much the same for affiliated minor league teams. In the independent leagues you are less likely to see video, however audio seems to be working its way in (the Frontier League's California Winter League broadcast its games over the internet).

On the other hand, football, fattened by TV contracts sat on what it had and has started to falter. While baseball makes a huge effort to make its fans and players connect, parents don't want their kids to play football or adopt football players as their role models. College TV viewership isn't living up to expectations. Their are signs of a weakening market for the pros as well - note that Monday night football could no longer survive on a regular channel and had to move to ESPN as far back as 2005. The NFL has not shown a deft hand at dealing with this, doing things such as setting a Thursday night game every week on the generally unwatched NFL cable channel. CBS put this year's superbowl on the internet, but you wonder how much they had to pay to do it and if it might have been the reason their TV viewership, while huge, wasn't as high as last year's.

All-in-all. football is still the TV megasaurus, but one wonders if its fan base isn't a lot weaker than baseball's overall. True fans go to the games. Any idiot can hit a button on her remote.

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