The National Pastime(s)

**The National Pastime(s) **

About one-third of the nation is expected to tune into the Super Bowl, a gargantuan audience that is nothing new for the National Football League. The 17 most-watched programs in TV history have all been Super Bowl games.

One could be forgiven for thinking the N.F.L. was openly coveting the title of “national pastime” — applied to baseball for the last 150 years and presumably coveted by the N.B.A., as well. While such muscle-flexing seems rather gauche in a time of recession (especially as the N.F.L. was preparing to lay off more than 10 percent of its staff), the question remains: Which is it? Football, baseball or basketball?

Let’s go to the numbers.
The N.F.L. makes what you might call the shock-and-awe case for being the national pastime. Each year, a Harris Interactive survey asks Americans to name their favorite sport. The N.F.L. has won each of the last 43 surveys, often rather handily. Last year, 30 percent of Americans chose pro football as their favorite sport, compared to 15 percent for baseball and just 4 percent for professional basketball. College football claims another 12 percent of hearts and minds (as well as ESPN’s, which recently paid $500 million to carry college football’s Bowl Championship Series from 2011 to 2014). All told, 42 percent of Americans prefer some form of football.

The league goes on to suggest that some 225 million Americans watched an N.F.L. game on TV this season — “nearly 100 million more than the record number of Americans who voted in the 2008 presidential election.” This is true, in part, because while you can watch a football game dozens of times a year, you only get to vote once for president and you have to be at least 18.
(You could expand the argument by pointing out that attendance at college football games reached nearly 49 million in 2007 compared to 32.8 million for college basketball, according to the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Attendance at college baseball games is microscopic by comparison.)
But plenty of people go to Major League Baseball games, which is why, much like the game’s chroniclers, M.L.B. prefers to consider the argument with a wide-angle lens. Asked why baseball still deserves to be called the national pastime, partisans will cite one figure: 78.5 million. That is the attendance total recorded by Major League Baseball for the 2008 regular season. By comparison, the N.F.L.’s regular-season attendance was just over 17 million. Yes, football has a shorter season, but how can you call Major League Baseball less popular if it sells four times as many tickets?

The whole argument reminds me of George Carlin’s Baseball vs. Football routine where he says baseball is rural, football is urban. It’s really funny and, amazingly for Carlin, G-rated.

Baseball sells more tickets… but also provides about 3x the opportunites per season to go…

… and I find it deadly boring.

Pro American Football is not much better, IMO… takes 2-4 hours to play 60 minutes.

But my favorite sport is Rugby. I’ve gone to watch the local clubs play… jolly good fun. Takes about 2 hours to play regulation 15’s. Football without the “stop and think” time. And without the armor.

(my local is often 7’s or 11’s, and those are shorter.)

Doesn’t even compare…

NFL teams are the ones having to construct bigger stadiums.

NFL teams have the highest ticket prices, because the demand for them is ridiculous. The other sports still try to hide the fact that their games are not sold out.

NFL by far produces the most money.

NFL provides the greatest opportunity for young men to participate with 55 men to a team, many more per practice squad, plus support and coaching when you no longer want to wear a helmet.

NFL is the most complicated game with the outcomes dependent on 24 (yes, don’t forget the kicker and the punter) of those 55 players having a direct impact on the play of the game. In every other sport, the people who play offense are the same ones on defense.

Football is our new pastime. Baseball is going the way of boxing with the rise of MMA. The total body sports are what’s popular.

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