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Archive for the ‘NFL’ Category

(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Before embarking on a Hall of Fame career in the NFL, John Elway played a season in the Yankees’ farm system.

Thirty years ago today, the Yankees drafted a Hall of Famer, two-time champion, multiple-record holder, and iconic cultural figure. Unfortunately, the player they selected never appeared in a single major league game.

With the last pick in the second round of the 1981 June draft, the Yankees selected a 20-year old outfielder from Stanford named John Elway. In his sophomore season, Elway hit .361 with nine home runs and 50 RBIs, but his performance on the diamond paled in comparison to his exploits on the gridiron.

In addition to playing baseball, Elway also happened to be the starting quarterback for the Stanford Cardinal. During his second season leading the team, he racked up 27 touchdowns, 248 completions and 2,889 passing yards, all Pac-10 Conference records. For his efforts, Elway was named the conference player of the year.

The Yankees would be one of the few teams that I would have considered signing with this early in my college career.” – John Elway, quoted by AP, September 21, 1981

Because Elway had emerged as such a strong pro-football prospect, very few people even entertained the thought that he might actually play baseball. In some circles, the Yankees were ridiculed for wasting what was their first selection in the draft. However, when the quarterback/outfielder signed a minor league deal with the team in September (he had previously turned down a contract from the Royals after being drafted out of high school in 1979), the door was left opened to a baseball career.

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(In addition to appearing at The Captain’s Blog, this post is also being syndicated at TheYankeeAnalysts.)

Over the past two days, the NFL and its players association have been engaged in a high stakes game of chicken. Will the league lock the players out? Will the union decertify first and force the fate of a new CBA into the courts? Or, will both parties agree to an extension, thereby allowing each side to stare down the other for at least another week?

Meanwhile, almost 10 months before its current CBA expires, baseball’s management committee and players union met for the first time, and had what new MLBPA head Michael Weiner described as a “productive session”. What a difference a decade makes! Not too long ago, it was the NFL that enjoyed relative labor peace, while baseball had to battle tooth and nail for every new CBA extension. Maybe salary caps aren’t a panacea after all?

As recently as 2002, baseball’s owners and players remained bitter enemies when it came to negotiating a CBA. That year, the players went so far as to set an August 30 strike deadline, but an agreement was eventually reached without a work stoppage. It was the first time since 1972 that the two sides had been able to make a deal without a lockout or a walkout, and the momentum from that negotiation was carried over to 2006, when the current contract was completed two months before the previous one’s expiration.

So, what has happened since 2002 to foster baseball’s current labor peace? Perhaps it was the near doubling of league-wide revenue (even in the midst of a drastic recession) over the past eight seasons?

MLB Yearly Revenue, 2003-2010

Source: Forbes and MLB.com

After so many years of acrimony, it seems as if baseball’s owners and players have found a way to share the game’s enormous wealth. However, that doesn’t mean the upcoming CBA will be completely uneventful. Just because neither side is likely to seek a major change to the sport’s financial system doesn’t mean each party won’t have a wish list they’d like to incorporate into the current setup. Listed below are some possible issues that could come up during the negotiations. (more…)

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Perhaps anxious to get right to the game, Christina Aguilera’s rendition of the Star Spangled Banner before the Super Bowl not only improvised a few words, but removed one line altogether. Considering that the NFL has turned the game into a reality TV show (Janet Jackson has become a more notorious figure in Super Bowl history than Scott Norwood), rather than just a sporting event, the publicity following the botched Anthem probably has league suits beaming.  Not only does the NFL seem to relish every last crumb of media attention, but for at least one more day, postseason focus was diverted from the impending lockout that could shut the sport down for some time to come.

Questionable performances of the National Anthem are not unique to the NFL. Baseball, with its thousands of games each season, has had more than its fair share of debacles ever since the tradition first started during the turn of the 20th century (the custom of singing the Anthem before every game began during World War II). Undoubtedly, the worst rendition of the national song took place before a San Diego Padres game on July 25, 1990, when the team inexplicably decided to invite comedian Roseanne Barr to do the honors. In what could only be described as a desecration, Barr not only completely mangled the lyrics with a shrill vocal delivery, but then she proceeded to make lewd gestures while walking off the field to a serenade of boos.

Before Barr’s disgraceful peformance, one of the most controversial renditions of the Anthem took place before game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Amid the backdrop of a very tense time in Detroit, which had been ravaged by social unrest and racially motivated riots, Tigers’ announcer Ernie Harwell booked a young, blind Puerto Rican singer named Jose Feliciano to perform the National Anthem. In the past, very little liberty was taken with the song’s delivery, but on this evening, Feliciano chose a soulful rendition inspired by his Latin jazz roots.

Only moments after the unorthodox version was completed, hundreds of outraged viewers flooded television station switchboards. In the ensuing days, Harwell was widely criticized, with some even suggesting he was a Communist. Things were even worse for Feliciano, whose music was blackballed for sometime to come. Despite the controversy, both Harwell and Feliciano persevered and went on to enjoy very successful careers, and in the process, their involvement in what was once a moment of scorn was turned into a source of pride. Feliciano’s rendition is still remembered to this day, but the recollections are now mostly positive. In fact, the singer was invited back to Tiger Stadium on May 10, 2010 to once again sing the Star Spangled Banner during a tribute to the recently deceased Harwell.

Although Feliciano’s singing of the National Anthem paved the way for the more creative renditions often song today, resistance to some interpretations still remains. Of course, with the exception of debacles like Barr’s, just about any performance would probably be preferable to forgetting the words. That’s a lesson Aguilera found out the hard way…ramparts and all.

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The best part of the Super Bowl is it serves as the unofficial starting point for the baseball season. Although the majority of those tuning in are probably more concerned about the spread (both the final Vegas line as well as the food and drink being served), there may be a few viewers actually interested in the game. Because Yankees’ fans who fall into that category could have a hard time picking a team to support, listed below is some data to help them make a choice.

Yankees’ Record in Seasons Following Packers’ and Steelers’ Championships

      Yankees
NFL Champion MLB W L Finish
1929 Green Bay Packers 1930 86 68 3rd
1930 Green Bay Packers 1931 94 59 2nd
1931 Green Bay Packers 1932 107 47 WS
1936 Green Bay Packers 1937 102 52 WS
1939 Green Bay Packers 1940 88 66 3rd
1944 Green Bay Packers 1945 81 71 4th
1961 Green Bay Packers 1962 96 66 WS
1962 Green Bay Packers 1963 104 57 AL
1965 Green Bay Packers 1966 70 89 10th
1966 Green Bay Packers 1967 72 90 9th
1967 Green Bay Packers 1968 83 79 5th
1974 Pittsburgh Steelers 1975 83 77 3rd
1975 Pittsburgh Steelers 1976 97 62 AL
1978 Pittsburgh Steelers 1979 89 71 4th
1979 Pittsburgh Steelers 1980 103 59 AL East
1996 Green Bay Packers 1997 96 66 WC
2005 Pittsburgh Steelers 2006 97 65 AL East
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 2009 103 59 WS

 

  Yankees
NFL Champion W L Pct Playoffs WS
Green Bay Packers 1079 810 0.571 5 3
Pittsburgh Steelers 572 393 0.593 4 1

Note: For NFL, end of season champions from 1920-1932; NFL champions from 1933 to 1965; Super Bowl champions from 1966-Present.
Source: baseball-reference.com and pro-football-reference.com

Although the Yankees have won more World Series following a Packers’ championship, the team’s record following a Steelers’ title has historically been better. Also, the Yankees have made the playoffs in a higher percentage of seasons following a Steelers’ championship (67% to 42%), so it seems as if Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi will probably be pulling for Pittsburgh.

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They have chosen to start the war. They have fired the gun.” – MLBPA Executive Director Marvin Miller, quoted by AP, February 20, 1981

“We are at war!” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

As the NFL and the NFLPA careen toward what seems like an inevitable work stoppage, both the commissioner and players’ representative have engaged in a bout of public relations saber rattling. Meanwhile, major league baseball is expected to quickly come to an agreement on a new CBA when the current one expires in December 2011.

Smith doesn’t seem as if he’ll be the pushover that NFL owners have come to expect.

Anyone who is familiar with each sport’s labor relations over the past 20 years will immediately see the irony. Dating back to Marvin Miller’s election as head of the MLBPA in 1966, baseball players and owners have shared a rancorous relationship that included five strikes and three lockouts between 1972 and 1995. Football, however, has mostly enjoyed labor peace, particularly after two unsuccessful strikes by the NFLPA in 1982 and 1987 rendered the players’ union as a rubber stamp.

Not surprisingly, the NFLPA’s acquiescence to a salary cap has not mollified the owners’ voracious appetite for a larger piece of the financial pie. As a result, the lords of the NFL now stand poised to lock the players out if they do not once again capitulate to a series of adverse demands. If new NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has anything to say about the process, however, things won’t be as pleasant for Roger Goodell and his band of profit takers this time around. The economics support the players’ position, so all that is needed is steadfast leadership.

Unlike past executive director Gene Upshaw, whose background was as a player, Smith is a bonafide litigator with 10 years experience in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Although he doesn’t have the labor background that Marvin Miller did when he took over control of the baseball union, Smith does seem to be cut out of the same cloth. Despite being criticized for his tough talk, he has not waivered in his public discourse. Ultimately, Smith will have to maintain unity among the rank and file, just as Miller did with his constituency, but if he can achieve that end, the NFLPA could emerge as a partner instead of an underling in the NFL’s financial structure.

The economic issues at hand are much different, and the relative size of the football union adds a greater challenge, but there are still lessons that Smith can learn from Miller. The chief among these, however, is the most basic. If the NFLPA is going to final win what is essentially a financial war, it can not be timid, and most certainly can not be accommodating. Even though the owners possess a massive war chest, their greed still makes them vulnerable. As much as the NFL chieftains would like to take a larger portion of revenues, they certainly do not want to relinquish the large sums of money that would be forfeited in a prolonged work stoppage. If the owners shut the game down for an extended period of time, they’ll be cutting off their nose to spite their face, and as much as greed can be a motivator for stupidity, multi-millionaires don’t get that way by turning off a steady steam of cash flow.

When it comes to this job, [Miller] remains my idol. He walks into a union that did not have a significant amount of information coming to the players, he had a very hostile reception from management, and what he brought to the players was the meat and potatoes of what organized labor unions do.” – NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, quoted by The New York Times, January 22, 2011

Miller was never shy about taking his case to the media.

As baseball’s labor history has shown, owners’ resolve can wear thin quickly. What’s more, their veiled negotiating tactics are usually looked upon unfavorably by the courts and relevant government agencies. There has already been a crack in the union ranks, and some have criticized Smith’s reference to being at “war”, but the answer to that is to push forward with even greater resolve. Smith can not be afraid of a lockout. Marvin Miller never was. Whether it’s a war of words in the media or a war of ideas at the negotiating table, Smith needs to be on the front line fighting. He can’t worry about the harsh words that are likely to follow. Those same criticisms were levied at Miller, and now most people believe he merits inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

With selfishness being a natural human tendency, and so many players already “getting theirs”, most people, including the sport’s owners, expect that a lockout will be too costly for the players. The greater cost, however, will come from capitulating to a bad CBA. That’s the lesson the NFLPA has to learn, and that’s the challenge facing Smith. What would Marvin Miller do if he was leading the charge? He’d prepare for war…and that’s what Smith should be doing too.

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In honor of the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks’ ascension to the playoffs in the “competitively balanced” NFL, listed below are the worst teams to make Major League Baseball’s postseason. Although the enormous difference between both sports’ schedules makes any meaningful comparison difficult, baseball would be wise to consider the potential implications of expanding its playoff system to the same extent as the NFL.

Ten “Worst” MLB Playoff Teams, Ranked by Winning Percentage

Year Team W L W% Finish Outcome
2005 Padres 82 80 0.506 NL West Champ Lost NLDS.
1973 Mets 82 79 0.509 NL East Champ Lost World Series.
2006 Cardinals 83 78 0.516 NL Central Champ Won World Series.
2008 Dodgers 84 78 0.519 NL West Champ Lost NLCS.
1984 Royals 84 78 0.519 AL West Champ Lost ALCS.
1997 Astros 84 78 0.519 NL Central Champ Lost NLDS.
1987 Twins 85 77 0.525 NL West Champ Won World Series.
2007 Cubs 85 77 0.525 NL Central Champ Lost NLDS.
1997 Indians 86 75 0.534 AL Central Champ Lost World Series.
2009 Twins 87 76 0.534 AL Central Champ Lost ALDS.

Note: Excluding the strike-shortened 1981 season in which the schedule was broken down into two separate halves. That year, the Kansas City Royals won the second half AL West title with a 30-23 record, despite going 50-53 overall.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

As evidenced by the chart above, the “worst” playoff teams have not been wild cards, but division leaders. However, seven of these division winners played in the wild card era.  The same scenario also often exists in the NFL, where this year the below-.500 Seahawks advanced to the playoffs ahead of two 10-win teams (New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

In any potential plan to expand its playoffs, baseball would be better off resisting the urge to add more divisions. Although it may seem counter intuitive, a system with more wild cards, not division leaders, would help ensure that the best teams make the playoffs. Unlike the NFL, which has the point spread to help cover up any blemishes in its postseason matchups, baseball relies on the integrity of its playoff system. A couple of teams have already come close to testing the .500 barrier, so when Bud Selig and his committee get around to discussing postseason expansion, their mission should be to ensure that baseball doesn’t wind up with a team like the Seahawks still playing in October.

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With as much as 20 inches of snow on the ground in some parts of the tri-state area, it’s probably little consolation that there are fewer than 50 days until pitchers and catchers start making their annual trek to warmer climates. After all, before getting to enjoy the first sounds of Spring Training, fans in many parts of the country must first survive at least another two months of cold and snow. However, there was a time when sports fans were able to watch the New York Yankees play under such conditions instead of waiting for the warmth of spring time. From 1946 until 1949, the legendary baseball team shared its name with one that played in the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), an upstart league that sort to challenge the incumbent National Football League (NFL) during that period (another New York Yankees football team featuring Red Grange played in the American Football League in 1926 and the NFL in 1927-1928 before disbanding).

Alignment of AAFC and NFL In 1946

NFL
Eastern Division Western Division
Boston Yanks (Fenway Park*) Detroit Lions (Briggs Stadium)
New York Giants (Polo Grounds) Chicago Bears (Wrigley Field)
Philadelphia Eagles (Shibe Park) Chicago Cardinals (Comiskey Park)
Pittsburgh Steelers (Forbes Field) Green Bay Packers (City Stadium)
Washington Redskins (Griffith Stadium) Los Angeles Rams (Los Angeles Coliseum)
   
AAFC
Eastern Division Western Division
New York Yankees** (Yankee Stadium) Cleveland Browns**** (Municipal Stadium)
Brooklyn Dodgers*** (Ebbets Field) Chicago Rockets (Soldier Field)
Buffalo Bisons (Civic Stadium) Los Angeles Dons (Los Angeles Coliseum)
Miami Seahawks (Burdine Stadium) San Francisco 49ers****  (Kezar Stadium)

*Became New York Bulldogs in 1949 and then New York Yanks in 1950.
**First professional football team to call Yankee Stadium home.
***Not related to NFL franchise of same name that became the New York Yankees.
****Admitted to the NFL after the 1949 season.
Source: Wikipedia.com and NFL.com

The connection between the football Yankees and their baseball namesake as well as several other professional football franchises is long and convoluted. The team began as an informal football gathering of St. Mary’s College students before organizing as the Dayton Triangles.  In 1920, the Triangles became an original member of what eventually became the NFL, but moved to Brooklyn in 1930, at which point the team’s name was changed to the Dodgers. In 1934, a business man named Dan Topping purchased half of the team, and then in 1945, along with Del Webb and Larry MacPhail, also purchased a share of baseball’s New York Yankees. Now with access to the much larger Yankee Stadium, Topping sought to move his football team from Ebbets Field to the Bronx, but his intentions were rebuffed by Tim Mara, the owner of the NFL’s New York Giants. As a result, the team faced financial turmoil and eventually had to merge with another struggling franchise called the Boston Yanks (itself named in honor of the baseball Yankees by an owner anxious to move the team to Yankee Stadium).

By the end of the 1946 season, Topping had exhausted all alternatives, which made him especially receptive to the upstart AAFC. He eventually purchased the rights to the AAFC’s New York franchise, which was to be called the Yankees and play in the House That Ruth Built for baseball. In retaliation, the NFL canceled Topping’s ownership in the Boston Yanks franchise, but several of the team’s players followed him over to the Bronx.

Unissued stock certificate of the New York Yankees Football Club, Inc., which was formed by Dan Topping, who was also a part owner of baseball’s New York Yankees.

In its first two seasons, the football Yankees played the Cleveland Browns for the AAFC championship, but lost each time. On December 22, 1946, Paul Brown’s powerhouse Cleveland team, which was quarterbacked by the legendary Otto Graham, rallied from behind “on the frozen, snow-swept turf of the huge lakefront municipal stadium” to beat the Yankees 14-9. The winning score was a 16-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Dante Lavelli with only four minutes remaining in the game. The next year, on December 14, the two teams met once again on a snow covered field, but this time the venue was Yankee Stadium. For the second straight season, Graham proved to be the difference, rushing and passing for a touchdown in the Browns 14-3 victory in front of 61,879 fans.

Although teams like the Browns and Yankees attracted larger crowds than their NFL neighbors, the marketplace for professional football wasn’t big enough for two leagues, so a merger was agreed upon after the 1949 season. As part of the deal, three AAFC franchises were admitted to the NFL and the combined league was temporarily called the National-American Football League. In addition to the Browns, which won all four AAFC championships and compiled an astounding 47-4-3 record, the San Francisco 49’ers and Baltimore Colts (no relation to Johnny Unitas’ team) joined the new league, while Topping’s Yankees were left out in the cold (the NFL already had the Giants and Bulldogs in New York).

With the AAFC out of business, the NFL’s New York Bulldogs, which had formerly been the aforementioned Boston Yanks, changed its name to the New York Yanks and moved from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium. In addition, 18 former players from Topping’s Yankees squad joined the Yanks, extending that team’s legacy for two more years before the franchise was revoked and moved to Dallas (and later to Baltimore before ending up in Indianapolis). The site of football being played in the Bronx wasn’t dead, however, as in 1956 the football Giants moved from the Polo Grounds to Yankee Stadium, which in 1958 was host to the historic NFL championship between the Giants and Colts (remember, the Colts had been the New York Bulldogs, the NFL’s first Yankee Stadium tenant).

In summary, football’s Brooklyn Dodgers became the New York Yankees, who were later merged into the New York Bulldogs before eventually becoming the Baltimore Colts team that returned to Yankee Stadium and beat the New York Giants in a pivotal championship that helped make the NFL the financial behemoth that it is today. Phew! Talk about a small world. With perhaps only slight exaggeration, it could be said that the House That Ruth Built helped build the NFL. Not bad for a part-time job in the off season.

Football Family Tree

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Earlier today, the Captain’s Blog was invited by TheYankeeU to address some of the issues involved with comparing MLB and NFL TV ratings. If you haven’t checked it out already, by all means head on over. And, while you’re there, be sure to enjoy all of the other great work being done over at TYU.

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When Cubs outfielder Tyler Colvin was hit in the chest by a splintered maple bat back in late September, many in the media and blogosphere reacted with outrage. The question most asked was something along the lines of how could the selfish owners and disinterested players sacrifice safety for economics? Apparently, those sounding off had never seen the NCAAF or the NFL.

Over the weekend, there were two particularly violent injuries in college and pro football. On Saturday, Rutgers’ defensive tackle Eric LeGrand went from the gridiron to intensive career after he suffered a severe spinal cord injury while making a tackle on a special teams play. LeGrand’s injury required emergency surgery, but the 21-year old remains paralyzed from the neck down (apparently, student athletes can sacrifice their bodies for their universities’ sporting glory, but the idea of receiving compensation is abhorrent). Then, on Sunday, Philadelphia Eagles’ WR DeSean Jackson suffered a “severe” concussion after being demolished by Falcons’ cornerback Dunta Robinson.

Obviously, football is a violent game, but more and more the sport has seemed to glorify the bone rattling hits that regularly produce serious injuries, particularly to the spinal cord and head. Concussions have become a major epidemic, yet each week those in and around both the college and pro game seem to have no problem glossing over the issue. At least football doesn’t have to worry about those scary maple bats.

The statistics involving concussions and the NFL are downright scary. According to the New York Times, a 2000 survey of former players found that an overwhelming 60% had suffered at least one concussion, while over one quarter had experienced at least three. What are the ramifications of these injuries? The same Times articles cited a University of North Carolina study that found links between multiple concussions and depression as well as a University of Michigan study with similar findings. Another study done at Purdue University conducted on high school football players has gone even further, suggesting that multiple impacts to the head, even if not strong enough to cause concussion, could lead to permanent brain impairment.

The worst part about the violent injuries that occurred over the weekend is that they are not unique. In fact, you could pretty much pick out any given Saturday or Sunday and find an injury that is a part of this alarming trend. And yet, no one seems to be bothered that much.

Congress has made overtures about looking into the problem of concussions, but hasn’t yet mustered the same level of outrage it expressed about the use of performance enhancement drugs in baseball. I wonder what happened to all of the concern about “the kids”? After all, there are an estimated three million children between the ages of six and 14 playing youth football, and many of them face the same risks of serious injury. Just ask Zackery Lystedt.

Football is violent. I get that. I also understand that America loves to watch violence, especially when it is packaged in a vehicle that facilitates our equal desire to place a wager. Although it would be nice if football was held to the same high standards as baseball (concussions are at least as serious as maple bats, right?), the fact that it is not only proves a point that I have long been making: baseball remains our national pastime, while football has become our national vice.

The NFL’s bread and circuses may seem like they are more popular now, but baseball should resist the urge to appeal to the same lowest common denominator. Just like baseball outlasted the popularity of boxing in the first half of the 20th century, it will also endure long after the nation’s appetite for football’s combination of gambling and violence moves on to another sport. And, if America is really starving for crushing hits and crippling blows, then let them eat cake.

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Even though the business of sports has evolved well beyond the realm of network television ratings, the national sports media still seems fixated on comparing the number of eyeballs watching playoff baseball to those tuning into the NFL’s regular season.

Every October, the narrative of each story basically remains the same. A primetime NFL game winds up significantly out-rating a baseball post season matchup, leading to the conclusion that the NFL has not only surpassed baseball as the national pastime, but rendered it a second class citizen of the nation’s sports fandom. This year, the perfect fodder for the meme was the juxtaposition of the Phillies’ NLDS game three against the Reds and the Eagles week five matchup versus the 49’ers, which were broadcast on NBS and TBS, respectively.

Keeping with the script, USA Today’s headline blared that the Eagles “crushed” the Phillies as a television draw, citing NBC’s 11.7 overnight rating, which was 200% better than TBS’ 3.9 tally. Aside from ignoring the fact that NBC still reaches more households than TBS (about 10% by many estimates), the article also failed to mention that the Phillies attracted more viewers (27.7 rating) than the Eagles (24.1 rating) in the Philadelphia market, according to John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal.

Numbers aside, what constantly gets lost in these comparisons is that baseball is much more of a regional game. While baseball’s ratings are mostly driven by the local markets of teams playing in a particular series, the NFL caters to a much broader audience. Although the NFL doesn’t like to admit it, a significant amount of its appeal is as either a vehicle for gambling or background noise for social drinking. Baseball, on the other hands, seems to appeal more narrowly to those with a greater personal investment in the sport itself. Does that make football more popular as a network television property? Absolutely. It does not, however, make football the nation’s number one sport.

Over the past decade, baseball has enjoyed increasing revenue at a rate even greater than the NFL’s, thanks in large part to its wildly successful MLBAM internet arm as well as significant increases in revenue generated from local RSNs, particular those owned in part by the teams’ themselves. In other words, there are more ways to keep score than the television ratings of a single game (a criteria that necessarily favors the NFL because of its much shorter 16 game schedule), and baseball is doing very well on many of them.

Regardless of what gets reported, MLB would be wise to remember that ratings are not the end-all and be-all when it comes to measuring quality. Just ask the over five million viewers who tune in each week to watch Jersey Shore (or then again, maybe don’t).

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