By Ken Reed

I was handed free tickets to an NBA preseason game last night so I decided to go. The game was less than enthralling so I took a spin around the concourse as the second half dragged on. I wandered into a sports lounge on the club level and noticed a dozen or so HD monitors turned to various sporting events. A couple had the NBA preseason game that was being played in the arena. The rest were fairly evenly divided between the Los Angeles Dodgers vs. St. Louis Cardinals National League championship series and the Indianapolis Colts vs. San Diego Chargers Monday Night Football game. It wasn’t surprising that a sports lounge would have these games on. What was surprising was that there were 15-20 fans gathered around the NFL game and only two or three watching the playoff baseball game (even with two of the most storied MLB franchises playing).

I realize that nobody can say baseball is America’s national pastime these days without having a smirk on their face, but I didn’t realize that one of baseball’s league championship playoff games would take such a back seat to an early season football game between two of the smaller markets in the NFL.

As Jonathan Mahler recently wrote in The New York Times, “What happened — is happening — to our national pastime?” Is baseball still relevant?

Actually, I think Mahler is on to something when he suggests baseball is a game you follow and football is a game you watch. There always seems to be a baseball game on TV but NFL games are relatively rare occurrences. The NFL is much more appointment TV.

Moreover, our culture has evolved while baseball hasn’t. The phrase “national pastime” even sounds archaic. When asked to describe what images come to mind when he hears the phrase “national pastime,” broadcaster Bob Costas said,” It sounds like a guy sitting on a rocking chair on his porch listening to a game on the radio and maybe he’s whittling.”

We want more action today and in our multitasking society baseball just seems too slow. And unfortunately, it’s getting slower with the increasing time it takes to get a pitch called by the catcher and accepted by the pitcher, pitching changes ad nauseam, and batters constantly stepping out of the box to readjust the straps on their batting gloves. Football is loud, fast and violent while “baseball is quiet and slow,” says Daniel Okrent, the founding father of fantasy baseball.

I love baseball but I tend to follow it more through radio broadcasts while mowing the lawn and scanning box scores while eating my breakfast cereal than I do actually watching games. With football and basketball on the other hand, I’ll take more time to sit down and watch the action.

Apparently, I’m not alone. According to the Nielsen’s, the seven least-watched World Series have taken place the last eight years.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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