The football takeover: What happened to America’s Pastime?

Michelle Fredrickson

Sports dummies, I have a confession to make.

While I am mostly a confused and separated bystander to the world of sporting, there is one area in which I find myself intrigued. I have a soft spot in my heart for one sport and one team. The sport is baseball and the team is the Seattle Mariners. It is especially noticeable now that the baseball season is finally starting.


Do not get me wrong, I still watch baseball games and wonder at the fanfare. I still see salaries and marvel at the excesses. But I grew up watching the Mariners and it’s the one sports game I can watch and enjoy unironically.

I have watched it with my grandparents, who talk often about how back in their day, baseball was the sport people loved to watch. Now it is football.

It makes me wonder – what happened to baseball, the obviously superior sport, and when did football take over in popularity?

The 2016 Super Bowl had about 167 million unique viewers in the United States. The World Series finale in 2016, however, had 75 million viewers at its most-watched point, averaging around 40 million. It certainly seems like baseball is losing the popularity contest, and yet baseball is still called America’s Pastime.

Football began its takeover in the 1960s, around the time television was becoming popular. Simply put, football marketed itself better than baseball. The NFL played their cards well and have huge negotiating power over the networks. They advertise the show – the drama, the aggression, the performances. This is something so ubiquitous that most people do not even notice how often these messages are shoved in our faces. The NFL does a phenomenal job marketing itself. The MLB did not do the same.

The nature of football itself appeals to people more and more. When I ask people who love sports what they think about baseball, the predominant response I get it “It’s really slow and boring.” American attention spans are decreasing all the time. According to Time Magazine, the average human attention span is less than 8 seconds, meaning humans have to refocus their brains every 8 seconds.

That would make it easier to pay attention to a game like football, where the action starts and stops every few seconds. It also helps explain this shift toward a more aggressive, action-packed game, and toward one with much less to keep track of.

It takes much more work to keep up with baseball. Football teams play 16 games each during their season, while baseball teams play an amazing 162 games during their season. At the risk of angering some football fans, I think it is safe to say that baseball fans are more committed to the sport. It is much harder to follow 10 times as many games.

Football attendance at games is much higher. So, though the NFL averages 65,000 attendees per game and MLB averages 30,000, in terms of overall season attendance that means the NFL sees approximately 1,040,000 fans and the MLB sees 4,860,000. Who knows if football would still see such high attendance levels if they also played 162 games.

While it may be an unpopular opinion, I conclude that football is popular because of a shifting cultural paradigm toward the fast and the action-packed with less emphasis on details and follow-through. It is so much easier to be a football fan, and maybe that is one of the reasons baseball has begun to fall by the wayside, even though it is obviously the better sport.


Collegian sports columnist Michelle Fredrickson can be reached by email at or on Twitter @mfredrickson42