One argument often heard in Major League Baseball circles is that the best way to get great TV ratings for the World Series is to have two very large markets in the equation.
The Steelers-Packers Super Bowl, comprised of two markets that are among the smallest in professional sports, drew the largest TV audience for any program in the history of our society, Fox announced yesterday.
He goes on to attribute this television popularity to the fact that the NFL is “fair” and Major League Baseball is not due to its financial structure. He says that unlike in baseball, market size — and Pittsburgh and Green Bay are tiny markets — don’t enter into it at all.
Without even passing on the fairness of baseball’s financial system — I realize it’s flawed; that’s another discussion — why do we continue to see NFL ratings and Major League Baseball ratings compared like this? Yes, the NFL is more popular, full stop. I don’t dispute that. But the degree of its greater popularity should not be inferred from its television ratings.
The vast, vast majority of baseball games are consumed on a local level. Fans watch their own teams’ games and rarely watch others. Why? Because their team is on TV every day. The couple of national broadcasts a week aren’t at all significant in comparison.
Football, in contrast, is a nationally-televised sport. As in, every NFL football game is carried by a national broadcaster. Yes, there is “regional coverage,” but without looking I bet you that the majority of the nation had access to either a Packers or a Steelers game every week this past season. Cowboys and Patriots too. The marquee teams are defacto national teams with national fan bases in the habit of watching them on national broadcasts.
That is what leads to gigantic national television ratings for football games. That and a host of other factors such as scarcity of actual games, weather and attractiveness of the sport on a flat screen that naturally makes football a better TV sport than baseball is. I seriously doubt that the underlying economics of the game enter into your average fan’s decision to tune in the Super Bowl vs., say, the World Series.