NFL Outshining MLB? Don’t Think So! Is it? Maybe

The NFL is the new National Pastime? Maybe two years ago! A light-hearted glance beyond the numbers: Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

America's National Pastime. MLB versus NFL. Where do you stand?

It wasn't long ago when it was said that the NFL had surpassed MLB as its National Pastime.

The NFL was as popular as ever, with highlight reel plays and big time players every week. We still have that, but clearly the focus isn't the same.

Is it?

The ever-constant issues plaguing the NFL today seems to be calls by the refs: Questions that no one ever seems to know the answer to, "What is a catch?"

Former referee Mike Carey attempts to explain one such instance.


Getty Images Sport Joe Robbins
Getty Images Sport Mike McGinnis
Getty Images Sport Rob Carr

Thursday Night Football: I remember heading media pundits talking about the possibility of the league being on more than just two days a week, and that this would be a good thing. So naturally Thursday Night Football has become the bane of our existence. Does anyone care about this?

Just from casual social media chatter, Facebook and Twitter -- search with any keywords including Thursday Night Football, TNF and words like sucks and you'll see what I'm talking about -- the casual fan seems less-enthused. Might have something to do with lousy games -- NFL has to be licking their chops for Raiders - Chiefs tonight...Did we just say that? -- featuring what has become a majority of average teams around the league.

Remember the Jacksonville Jaguars vs the Tennessee Titans a few weeks ago? Browns and Ravens anyone? Yeah, I know the Titans are technically in the race, ditto for the Ravens and the Browns' franchise history suggests they were once a power, but when the league is trying to market these as Game of the Week status, I don't know many people getting all that excited.

You know how they have college football on Tuesdays and Wednesdays? They usually feature the colleges that don't get much press time on Saturday. I can assure you the Browns and Jaguars are equally as bad on Sunday. The NFL has been going global for a while now. Whether games in Mexico City or London, the NFL likes expanding its product. Nothing wrong with that. And while it might be booming over seas, TV ratings, at least for the once-again hometown Rams in Los Angeles, suggests it's not what it could be. I guess putting Rams London games on at 9:30 am, specifically when you have the West Coast still asleep at 6:30 am, is one reason for that.

Then there's the issues with domestic violence. Again, this isn't new and all sports have dealt with this black cloud. I reference the incident involving Aroldis Chapman. But while MLB acted fast in suspending Chapman, regardless of being charged, the NFL has been caught on the opposite spectrum. At least when you consider the Ray Rice fiasco and then the Josh Brown problem, and the league apparently more worried about deflating footballs and players wearing cleats honoring a personal cause. The general public is more concerned with spousal abuse and what the league intends to do to curb it rather than if the commissioner can banish Tom Brady.

Look, I'm not saying MLB is perfect. No sport is, however it's obvious the general public doesn't quite view the disparity between the two sports like the casual Monday morning water cooler talk suggests. While the NFL might be king as far as public perception, there are some underlying theories and numbers floating around, hinting that the NFL's problem might be a more persistent issue.

About this poll: There were no specific criteria for voting and I didn't want to hamper the process. This is just raw derived data to get a specific idea of the general consensus. I'm not surprised by the results. The NFL is a great product, and especially one that's easy to watch on TV. The constant complaint about baseball, and especially during the height of the postseason, in albeit one of the more memorable postseasons and especially World Series in some time, is the constant managing and scrutinizing and relief pitcher changes. Truth be told, the people talking about this are the ones who don't really watch during the regular season. The casual observer will tune in for the playoffs. But the fact that games are on late, mixed with the heightened opportunity for teams to capitalize with each pitch meaning so much, lends itself to more scrutiny and being extra cautious. I don't mind the four-hour games, and the constant-use of pitchers. For one, I'm probably not watching the whole game through if it's not my team. Or I'm much more casual about it. When it is my team, they better pull out all the stops and the last thing on my mind is that it's taking four hours to win.This will explain some of that fan process. But I understand it for those that have to get some sleep before school and work the next day. I've heard the NFL is a sport better suited for TV, whereas MLB is great in person. I could go either way. I'd love to go to the game, and watching on TV is the next-best option.

So anyway these are just some of the things that go me thinking:

Did anyone on Thanksgiving, outside of being a Colts or Steelers fan, really watch the 'NBC Sunday Night Football on Thursday Night?' And for those that did, was it worth it? Besides the lame Sunday Night on Thursday Night moniker, that's about as desirable a matchup as you could expect and Scott Tolzein playing in Andrew Luck's absence summed that up. But baseball has the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim so we're about the same in the moniker department.

  • The Monday Night Football game between the Oakland Raiders and Houston Texans, from Mexico City a few weeks ago, came in at a 4.0 viewership between ages 18-49, thanks to the fine folks at TV By The Numbers via Forbes.

The league as a whole is down roughly 14%. Why? Well, Colin Kaeperick's protesting could be on answer. Despite what you say, it doesn't help. The Presidential debates, going up against the Atlanta Falcons vs New Orleans Saints, drew a record 84 million viewers. Then the second debate ran up against Sunday Night Football's New York Giants vs Green Bay Packers. All playoff contenders and teams that have won Super Bowls in the last seven years.

These debate ratings are likely an anomaly considering the lightning-rod and polarizing figures, amid the state of the country. But ultimately is just another component shedding light on a downward trend.

  • There's also October's MLB postseason outshining the NFL, which featured that thrilling tale of two cities: 108-year curse, featuring baseball's best team all season, against the second-longest drought in baseball, the Cleveland Indians.

Specifically Game 5, with the Cubs trailing the series 3-1 and on the brink of possible Indians' history, against the Philadelphia Eagles vs Dallas Cowboys, 23.6 million vs the 18 million average. I mean, the NFL has purposely taken SNF off World Series Sunday's in the past. To be fair, World Series Game 5 was already up a whole 37% over 2015's Game 5 between the Kansas City Royals and New York Mets. Because century-long World Series droughts are all the rage and pizzazz in such matchups tends to do that. It was also the first time since 2011 that the World Series upstaged a Sunday Night Football game. We can chalk this up to the possibility of seeing history, a first World Series potentially being won since 1948, and the first Wrigley Field clincher since that 1932 series against the New York Yankees. Remember the myth of Babe Ruth's called shot? 

Archive Photos Transcendental Graphics

Again, it's worth noting this was one of the most watched Fall Classics, and Game 7 itself being the highest since 1991, as well as the other long drought that ended in 2004, Boston Red Sox vs St. Louis Cardinals. Monday Night Football is also no stranger to the ratings decline -- Jets and Colts really? When anyone can instead be watching The Simpson's marathon -- so while everyone has theories, maybe it is or isn't Kaepernick, and the mediocre teams, and maybe it is or isn't to do with new lead play-by-play man Sean McDonough. C'mon Sean, we know you can do it. It's okay to be excited.

So anyway let's tackle this Thursday Night Football thing.

As far as Larry is concerned, there's something to be said for less is more. At least it's worthy for this debate. Thanksgiving football is as American as baseball is our National Pastime. In keeping with less is more, people only get so much out of watching mediocre teams every week. Or Thanksgiving football is a tradition most of us are engrained with. I mean, it's a novel concept to think that something like football on our TV, specifically something as great a product as the NFL on our sets every week, is a striking point. But it's clearly not living up to the golden goose's exceptions. Monday Night Snoozefest? Monday Night Football used to feel special. I mean, listen to this. This brings the feels, like the old NBA on NBC theme. I guess, for me anyway, the difference can be attributed to moving to cable off network TV.

And while we're on themes, MLB on FOX used to sound pretty good too.

Luckily FOX Sports affiliates still carry that tune for their local MLB broadcasts. Why FOX ever decided to take the current NFL on FOX theme and make it their universal soundtrack for all sports on FOX, I'll never understand. That tune is a classic that should only stick with football. That's what it resonates with.

No Fun League? Anyway back to the main point. Whether Roger Goodell's No Fun League: Remember Josh Norman's bow and arrow?

The refs seemingly botching a major call every week, 

or the increasingly alarming amount of mediocre teams, particularly combined with the weekly billing of Game of the Week status Thursday, Sunday and Monday night's, the 2016 decline in ratings may, or may not, be a serious continual of a downward trend. 

Good news the national debates are over

Without the Cubs and Indians epic World Series runs, it's unlikely the Game 5 and Game 7 ratings are as strong, based on past World Series vs SNF indicators. Also I've brandished about the label mediocre when speaking about a majority of the NFL. That's what it felt like much of the season. When speaking about the teams in the NFL, minus New England and Seattle, as mediocre, I say this referring to consistency. The Patriots and Seahawks have put together consistent teams, who have made deep playoff runs on a yearly basis. This season the typical playoff teams: Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Green Bay Packers, have been mediocre. Dallas was awful last season, more so attributed by Tony Romo's injury. They're looking great this year, but can they finally win a playoff game? 

The Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins are doing their best to turn back the clock and make the playoffs for the first time in years. The cream of the crop, as is always the case, is starting to rise to the top, and intriguing storylines are no doubt emerging. Is the NFL better when there's new teams in the mix, or is it better with the glory franchises back in prominence? Parody parity The wrap against baseball was the lack of a salary cap. There still isn't a salary cap, but parity has definitely evolved the sport. Not because teams can't spend, but because spending doesn't equate to wins like it might have in the past. While the appeal of the NFL, especially the  playoffs and particularly the Super Bowl, is the Any Give Sunday mantra, and the win-or-go home reality. That appeal is always going to be there, the possible adverse effects being blow out games, or so you'd think. While even a blowout Super Bowl will still bring in high ratings, because of the glitz and glamor associated with Super Bowl Sunday, being a de facto holiday and all, what about the baseball postseason? A 7-game series take on a life of its own. Postseason games are managed entirely different to their regular season counterpart: Terry Francona's use of Andrew Miller. While the Cubs were on the brink of being eliminated in five, we had the insatiable comeback, and one of the greatest games we could have hoped for. The greatest two words in sports. Game 7.

Because of the Any Given Sunday premise, we're always going to have pretty good NFL games and Super Bowls. We can't always predict the occasional blowout dud -- Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks? As infrequent as a World Series Game 7 is, they tend to live up to the hype -- 2016, 2014, or 2001.

"Fox announced the broadcast of Chicago Cubs’ 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in 10 innings had 40 million viewers, making it the most-watched baseball game in 25 years. The overnight rating (25.2) was also the best for a Fox baseball broadcast since Game 7 of the 2001 World Series." -- A.J. Perez, USA TODAY Sports

The Wall Street Journal goes on to say the 2016 World Series Game 7 was the most watched since 1991 between the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins, which the Twins prevailed in seven. Though the individual game of Super Bowl 50 was the most watched event in 2016 -- 111.9 million tuned in -- Game 7 was second with 49.9 million. The AFC and NFC title games came in at 53.3 and 45.7 million respectively. As a whole World Series, 115 million tuned in, which compared to the Super Bowl, looks to be in good hands. Healthy numbers, when put into perspective, for both sports. Super Bowl 49 between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks rank as the all-time high, with 114.4 million. And as for that Seahawks trouncing of the Broncos? Super Bowl 48 came in second with 112.2 million viewers in 2014. 

Denver beating Carolina was the third most watched Super Bowl in history with 111.9 million. All data via So yes, the numbers for the NFL are strong in a relative sense, at least as recent history indicates. Not having debates for a while will help. And the rest of it is all subjective. But as the declination is real, at least right now, football is pretty great and so is baseball. They both have what's going for them, but it's clear the tide has shifted a little, even if the NFL still takes the popularity stake, albeit, not as king supreme as it might have once been.

William Chase

William is a Sr. Staff Writer for FanSided's Cubbies Crib, a writer for Wrigley Rapport, and SB Nation's Jackets Cannon.

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