Super Bowl: More Proof That Football Is America's Real Favorite Pastime

The NFL is more popular than baseball in all ways but one.



For baseball fans, April—no matter what T.S. Eliot thought—is anything but "the cruelest month," but Super Bowl Sunday is surely the cruelest day. Now a rival to Thanksgiving as a secular national holiday—and a more politically correct one, except perhaps when the Redskins are playing (and that hasn't happened in quite a while) or the game venue is in (allegedly anti-immigrant) Arizona—Super Bowl Sunday is indeed "the second highest day of food consumption in the United States after Thanksgiving" according to the Department of Agriculture. What can baseball offer by way of festive hospitality? Super Bowl parties are fixtures on the social calendars of millions but I've never heard of a World Series party. And who ever remembered a World Series commercial? It is on Super Bowl Sunday, more than any other time, that the traditional "national pastime's" pretensions are put to the test—and found grievously wanting.

Last year, I posted the chart that appears below, comparing television ratings for the two sport's marquee events, the World Series and the Super Bowl, highlighting the vast and indeed ever growing gulf between their respective audiences in favor of the latter:


After mulling over the comparison for the past year, it occurred to me that perhaps this way of looking at the two events was unfair to baseball. After all, a World Series extends over multiple days and lacks the singular focus of the Super Bowl, and the graph was based on the average rating for a Series taking all games into account. If we ignored the early games, when less was immediately at stake, and looked instead only at the climactic games of the World Series would baseball make a better showing? Hence the graph below charting television ratings for the final games of those World Series in the past quarter century that went to 6 or 7 games as against the ratings for the Super Bowls played in those years:


Sad to say the two graphs reveal pretty much the same—and to the baseball faithful, dismal—comparative result. The Super Bowl rules.

But one can't let these numbers close the books on a full accounting of where baseball stands in the national imagination. This month a baseball movie, Moneyball, is vying for an Academy Award for Best Picture. It is the third (by my quick count) baseball picture to have been nominated for that honor, following The Pride of the Yankees (1942) and Field of Dreams (1989). Only one such nomination has ever gone to a film about football (The Blind Side from 2009)—which just manages to put that sport on a par with bicycle racing (Breaking Away) and pool (The Hustler).

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Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball and has written widely about the business and politics of sports. More

Henry D. Fetter is the author of Taking on the Yankees: Winning and Losing in the Business of Baseball (WW Norton). He has written about the business and politics of sports, the American left, Jewish and Israeli history, and legal affairs for publications including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Times Literary Supplement, the Journal of Sport History, Israel Affairs, The Public Interest, American Communist History, The National Pastime, and the Encyclopedia of American Jewish History, and his work has appeared in several baseball history anthologies.

His article "Revising the Revisionists: Walter O' Malley, Robert Moses and the End of the Brooklyn Dodgers" was awarded the Kerr History Prize for the best article published in 2008 in the journal New York History; an earlier version of that article was presented at the Columbia University symposium "Robert Moses: New Perspectives on the Master Builder" (March 2007) and received a McFarland-SABR Baseball Research Award. He is the recipient of research grants from the Society for American Baseball Research and the Harry S. Truman Library Institute.

Fetter is a graduate of Harvard Law School and also holds degrees in history from Harvard College and the University of California, Berkeley. A native New Yorker, he attended his first major league baseball game at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field on Memorial Day 1955 and some years later followed the Dodgers to Los Angeles where he has practiced business and entertainment litigation for the past 30 years.

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