Foot­ball has is­sues but base­ball truly suf­fer­ing

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Chris­tine Bren­nan

For many months now, we’ve been talk­ing about the NFL as a sport in trou­ble: fall­ing TV rat­ings, po­lar­iz­ing protests, Don­ald Trump’s nasty po­lit­i­cal di­a­tribes, the ter­ri­ble ef­fects of con­cus­sions — in other words, noth­ing but con­tro­versy. It turns out we’ve been fo­cus­ing on the wrong sport. The NFL cer­tainly has its is­sues, but Ma­jor League Base­ball is the one that’s truly suf­fer­ing. At­ten­dance is drop­ping, TV rat­ings are ad­e­quate but nowhere near the NFL’s, the games are too long and ex­tend too late into the evening, and kids aren’t grow­ing up to be base­ball fans as they were a gen­er­a­tion or two ago. There’s no bet­ter ex­am­ple of base­ball’s prob­lems than what hap­pened Mon­day night. Go­ing head to head with a mid­sea­son NFL game, MLB gave it its best shot: Game 3 of the se­ries to end all se­ries, the Bos­ton Red Sox-New York Yan­kees Amer­i­can League Di­vi­sion Se­ries from Yan­kee Sta­dium, tied at one game apiece. The NFL of­fered Wash­ing­ton at New Or­leans, with the added en­tice­ment of record-set­ting Saints quar­ter­back Drew Brees. While that was in­trigu­ing, it had nowhere near the im­por­tance of the Red Sox-Yan­kees game. So, the com­par­a­tive rat­ings? The base­ball game, which turned into a 16-1 Bos­ton rout, at­tracted 4.41 mil­lion view­ers. The foot­ball game, also a blowout, a 43-19 Saints vic­tory no­table for Brees’ all-time NFL pass­ing yards record and noth­ing else, av­er­aged 10.6 mil­lion view­ers. MLB’s mas­ter­piece was pum­meled by a run-of-the-mill NFL game. With many wed­ded to their smart­phones, there are ques­tions about the value of TV rat­ings — al­though one would think that would even out be­tween foot­ball and base­ball fans on a night like that — so let’s look at things the old-fash­ioned way: who’s show­ing up. That’s not good for MLB ei­ther. At­ten­dance dropped by 4 per­cent this sea­son, fall­ing un­der 70 mil­lion for the first time since 2003. There was some ter­ri­ble weather that led to a sea­son to­tal of 54 post­pone­ments, the most since 1989, but what­ever you want to blame, go­ing back­ward 15 years for an at­ten­dance com­par­i­son is not a good de­vel­op­ment for any sports league. Then there’s the length of games. If your goal is to please gray­ing seam­heads, a three-hour game isn’t just right, it’s prob­a­bly too short. But, if you want to have any fans in, say, 2058, the games are way too long. To­day’s 10-year-old is 2058’s 50-yearold. He or she doesn’t have the time or the at­ten­tion span to watch a full base­ball game to­day. (Truth be told, I don’t ei­ther, and I know no one who does.) But if the 10-year-olds don’t be­come fans now, how do they be­come fans in 40 years, in what will pre­sum­ably be an even faster­paced, more dis­tracted so­ci­ety? I think I have the an­swer to that: They won’t. This is the point in the col­umn where purists and oth­ers look­ing for a fight have a coro­nary and pro­claim pieces such as this are a plot to over­throw the game. They couldn’t be more wrong. Base­ball was the first sport I loved that loved me back. Be­fore girls were al­lowed to play or­ga­nized sports, base­ball was there for me, ev­ery day and ev­ery night. When my par­ents gave me a base­ball score­book, I promptly kept score of an en­tire sea­son of Toledo Mud Hens games by lis­ten­ing to the ra­dio broad­cast. My fa­ther took note of this de­vel­op­ment and bought us sea­son tick­ets for years to come. That wasn’t all. We drove an hour to Detroit to spend many sum­mer nights at Tiger Sta­dium, and went to Comiskey Park at least once ev­ery year when vis­it­ing rel­a­tives on Chicago’s South Side. Soon, col­lege foot­ball cap­tured our hearts, but I never gave up on base­ball, even when I started play­ing sports in high school and had much less time to go to games. By the way, that is a de­vel­op­ment that of­ten gets short shrift when we talk about kids not at­tend­ing pro sports: They’re too busy play­ing in their own games — not just the boys, but now, for a gen­er­a­tion or two due to Ti­tle IX, the girls too. While base­ball’s fu­ture is iffy, its present still holds tan­ta­liz­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties. Af­ter four dis­ap­point­ing open­ing play­off se­ries — let’s be hon­est, if you didn’t have a root­ing in­ter­est, they were duds — the two cham­pi­onship se­ries could be riv­et­ing.

NOAH K. MUR­RAY/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

The Red Sox cel­e­brate beat­ing the Yan­kees to ad­vance to the ALCS, but can MLB cel­e­brate its at­ten­dance and rat­ings num­bers?

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