Since its humble beginnings in the urban neighborhoods of America, baseball has been synonymous with our country’s favorite sport or ‘America’s pastime’. The lax athleticism required to play this game made baseball a sport for anyone to play, children and adults alike. Watching professional baseball was a leisurely social experience for fans yearning for a sense of community. Over the past 30 years, however, Americans seem to have lost their enthusiasm for baseball, bringing the future of this sport into question (Roark).
While there are several reasons why America’s passion for baseball has fizzled out, it’s hard to ignore football’s surge in fandom over the past decade. According to a 2014 Harris poll, 35% of sports fans reported that their favorite sport was football, while baseball only grabbed 14% of the vote. The turning point in this poll begins in 1985 when 24% voted football and 23% voted baseball (Rovell). So how does one explain such a huge cultural shift in such a short amount of time? I would like to suggest three main factors that contributed to this phenomenon. First, the NFL’s media conglomeration left sports fans no choice but to pay attention to it. Second, baseball has historically been a sport for fans to attend in person, whereas football has branded itself as a spectator sport made for television viewers. Lastly, the NFL has scheduled the football season around the lives of adults with full-time jobs in order to obtain maximum viewership while baseball games are consistently on weekdays. America’s behavioral and cultural changes over the past several decades has left baseball defenseless and unable to adapt to its modern society.
From their presence all day and night every Sunday, to commercial ads featuring the players, to fantasy leagues, to Madden video games, the NFL has figured out a way to insert their presence into the lives of Americans and do it successfully. Professional football is branded as a working-class sport through the drafting of poor black athletes. Children from the ghetto grew up watching players from the same financial background become rich and famous, professional athletes. To many underprivileged boys, becoming a professional athlete is the only way to escape a life of poverty. Lower class children of all races can relate to football players more than baseball players (today a predominantly middle class sport), and thus a huge part of the 18-24 year old male demographic became football fans.
Football players are also famous for exuding almost unachievable levels of hypermasculinity. Football is purely a contact sport made up of tackling other people, and injuries are all too common. The players’ uniforms are designed to show off their massive biceps and gladiatorial bodies, and when they score a touchdown they flex their muscles in celebration (Bry). In baseball, the only contact between players is to tag them out, and there is little aggressive confrontation between players. Their bodies are not seen as a commodity, and in fact, many players are known for being overweight and out-of-shape. Football also grants viewers a greater amount of action and immediate payoff due to the violent combative style of the sport. Because of the new appeal in hypermasculinity and violence in sports, baseball is perceived by the new generation as underwhelming and outdated.
In a Nielsen study of demographics, the age range for people to be more interested in baseball is 55+. It was also recorded that children are second most likely to quit baseball than any other sport next to soccer (Uhrmacher). These statistics only contribute to the proof that enthusiasm for baseball is declining quickly. Older generations that are still alive today chose baseball as the predominant sport just like their parents and grandparents preferred boxing over all else. It should actually be not surprising that baseball is less popular today because new generations control the media. It is only natural for cultural tastes to change as it does with movies, music, fashion, and more. And since more recent generations were raised having quicker access to more fast-paced sports and therefore shorter attention spans, many children view baseball as boring and unfulfilling and quit for a more active sport. Sports such as football and basketball are based on a one-and-done record season whereas the baseball season consists of the same team playing against each other for a series of seven games until a winner is declared. Baseball’s ‘slow and steady’ gameplay is much less appreciated by newer generations who are constantly seeking instant gratification for their favorite sports teams.
In the past, baseball has been the cultural symbol for leisure and free time displayed through the often long duration of each game. While baseball and football games typically last the same amount of time, audiences still see football as a quick three hours and baseball as a three-hour commitment. The difference in the perception of time between these two sports lays in its on air scheduling. Baseball game are historically scheduled mid-day during the week and football is reserved for Monday and Thursday nights as well as Sundays. This planning around the forty-hour work week brings in larger audiences because football fits perfectly into the working person’s schedule. It is easier for Americans to work all day and get home just in time for football rather than skipping work to attend a baseball game. In the past, Americans viewed baseball as an escape from work. Today it’s seen as a moral conflict between work and play.
In the words of journalist Mary McGory, “Baseball is what we were. Football is what we have become” (Roark). But don’t throw your baseball cards away just yet. Baseball still has its dedicated fanbase being passed on from one generation to the next. It is still more mainstream than soccer, tennis, or golf. And it is still the sport with the highest ballpark attendance (Lindholm). While America may no longer live for baseball, there’s no denying that priceless feeling when you attend a baseball game at your favorite field surrounded by a community full of strangers with one common goal. To root root root for the home team.
Bry, D. (2014, October 28). The decline of interest in baseball is a harbinger of waning American power. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/28/declining-interest-baseball-waning-american-power
Lindholm, S. (2015, April 6). Baseball attendance trends, 1890-2015–a visual analysis. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2015/4/6/8344399/baseball-attendance-trends-1890-2015-visual-analysis
Roark, D. (2015, May 11). The decline of baseball – and American character. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://theweek.com/articles/553720/decline-baseball–american-character
Rovell, D. (2014, January 6). NFL Still Most Popular for 30th Year in a Row. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/10354114/harris-poll-nfl-most-popular-mlb-2nd
Uhrmacher, K. (2015, April 5). Baseball’s decline in America. Retrieved November 10, 2015, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/baseballs-decline-in-america/2015/04/05/a18bce94-dbee-11e4-a500-1c5bb1d8ff6a_graphic.html