Sunday marked the return of America’s favorite pastime. The 114th season of Major League Baseball opened with the Pittsburgh Pirates hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in front of a packed stadium on Opening Day.
Some say that baseball is dying in this country. Since a national poll first ranked football as the most popular sport in America all the way back in 1971, the gridiron goliaths have crafted a strong argument that baseball has been permanently relegated to second-class status. However, there’s no doubting that good ol’ baseball is still a beloved part of American professional athletics.
Believe it or not, Major League Baseball remains a thriving machine in American sports. The NFL takes the cake when it comes to reaping profits and logging record viewers, however they are aided immeasurably by the mechanics of their schedule. When a season contains only 16 regular season games played more or less once per week, anticipation builds in a way that it can’t surrounding a 162-game schedule. Baseball teams play one another as many as 19 times in a regular season, most in three- or four-game sets at a time, so it’s difficult for any one matchup to acquire the hype that comes with the once-a-week, winner-take-all showdowns so prevalent in the NFL. However, MLB sure isn’t starving when it comes to bringing in fans and money.
From 2014 through 2015, MLB boasted game-day audiences that averaged at least 10,000 more fans than those of the National Basketball Association, according to sport360.com. In fact, according to the same totals from recent seasons, even the combined average attendances for the NBA and the National Hockey League would not eclipse the average attendances of MLB’s product.
Sure, baseball is a slow-paced game compared to other sports. Oftentimes, duels on the diamond aren’t as intricately and exhaustively analyzed as the prime time contests thrust onto TV by the NFL and the NBA. In head-to-head matchups, MLB games aren’t likely to top a much-anticipated edition of NBC’s Sunday Night Football, much less a garden-variety 4:30 p.m. bout on CBS or Fox. And no one is going to argue that baseball, with its tendency to stretch deep into the night with the absence of a time limit, is something to flock to when you’re in a hurry.
But as far as pure popularity goes, baseball is far from dead. Baseball is old-fashioned, perhaps, built as it is on anticipation and strategy rather than on brute force and exciting action. But it’s back, and it’s here to stay.