Saying that the NFL is more popular than baseball is both (a) true; and (b) old hat. It has become such an obvious thing that I didn’t even blink when I heard Frank DeFord say it for the ten millionth time just this morning, and most of what Frank DeFord says drives me kinda bonkers.
But how about basketball? Are NBA people knocking baseball down as a passe pastime? Yup!
Patrick Rishe of Forbes does it today, using the World Series’ low ratings as a hook. And even though the article can’t truthfully claim that the NBA is a bigger business (for it is not) or that it gets consistently higher ratings on its telecasts (it doesn’t, though see below), it has the big mo!
There is little doubt that MLB still generates more revenue than the NBA … But when you consider that the NBA’s crescendo has outpaced baseball’s in each of the last 3 years (as the table shows below), this lends further credence to a changing of the guard.
And it’s hip! The article goes on to note that “hip outplays slow,” “progressive outplays blind adherence to tradition,” and “athleticism and showmanship drive brand awareness more so than ever before.” Oh, and “baseball has no hipster feel,” the author says, as if that’s a bad thing. But the real thrust of the argument is about commerce. About how basketball stars have “personal brands” and how they have bigger endorsement deals.
What really gets me, though is the windup:
But baseball may one day (if not soon or already based on the data presented herein) be relegated to America’s 3rd most popular consumer sport if the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the soon-to-be new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have anything to say about it.
The “data presented herein” is Rishe’s own caveat-laden talk about the TV ratings — Rishe himself notes that the NBA has had high-powered Finals matchups in recent years, but even those don’t compare to the ratings the Yankees got in the 2009 World Series or any World Series matchups before that — and some stuff about how NBA stars are more marketable than baseball players. Which, by the way, has always been true, even back when the NBA was teetering on the edge of oblivion.
But even then, at the end, he still concedes that the NBA is likely third, pending the big stars of the NBA and its new commissioner actually doing something about it change things. Which … they haven’t been trying to do already? Well, I’m convinced. Indeed, I haven’t been as convinced by a comparison since I read Rishe’s article about how Josh Hamilton is just like Whitney Houston last winter.
How about this: the NBA, thanks to the recent dominance of marquee teams and exceedingly marketable players, is currently riding a nice wave, not unlike the sorts of waves it always rides when there are dominant, marketable players and/or the Lakers or Celtics are good. Baseball, meanwhile, has had a couple of World Series with matchups that don’t do much for national ratings. And given that there are probably no two major sports which serve more disparate demographics than do the NBA and Major League Baseball, marketing and star power is kind of irrelevant as a point of comparison.
But hey, I know apples/oranges analysis like that is not as sexy a story to write the week baseball season ends and the NBA season begins, so you keep on keeping on with it, bro.