Super Bowl vs. World Series


It’s no secret that the popularity (or lack thereof) of the World Series is nowhere near that of the Super Bowl. I almost feel guilty even mentioning the two sports spectacles in the same breath, but if there’s ever a day to do so, today is that day. Two of the four major sports in the United States, baseball and football are obviously watched by millions of Americans every year. However, the difference between the two is comparable to the difference between the New York Yankees and Pittsburgh Pirates.

As sports fans across the country order their pizzas, pick up their cases of beer, and stock up on tasty snacks, the anticipation builds toward America’s most beloved game. I don’t expect too many people to take the time to read this today, and if they do, they’re probably about two or three beers in by now. Quite honestly, it’s even hard for me to focus on my writing as I prepare for what is sure to be an entertaining night. Anyway, as the NFL season reaches its pinnacle and some of the world’s most talented athletes take center stage, I will dare to do the unthinkable: Create a head-to-head match-up between baseball and football.

Baseball, which is often referred to as our national pastime, has been around longer than any of the other major sports in America. 106 World Series’ have been played to this point, the first of which was back in 1903. Football, on the other hand, was first played professionally in the early 1900’s. Tonight’s Super Bowl is the 45th in NFL history. So, it’s been established that the game of baseball has much deeper roots in history than the game of football.

If this is the case, why does the World Series take a back seat to the Super Bowl year in and year out? There are many possible answers to this question, but before I get into them, let’s run through some statistics. After all, the numbers don’t lie.

Since the year 2000, FOX has been the network responsible for televising each and every game of the World Series. By and large, the Series has had its ups and downs in terms of viewing over the years. Common sense would tell us that the first and last game of the World Series would be most popular, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case. Maybe you would think that the games would be more popular as the series progresses, but that hasn’t really been true either.

In 2001, 39.1 million Americans tuned in to game 7 of the World Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks and New York Yankees. Perhaps more surprisingly, 30.8 million Americans tuned in to game seven between the Anaheim Angels and San Francisco Giants the following year. Since that time, no single World Series game has been watched by 30 million people in the U.S. In fact, game three of the 2008 World Series attracted only 9.8 million viewers.

The Super Bowl, which has been broadcasted by FOX, CBS, ABC, and NBC in recent years, has not only been known as one of the greatest sporting events in America, it has grabbed the attention of millions worldwide. While many sports championships have seen declines in viewership over time, the Super Bowl has only gotten bigger and better.

Since 1967, Super Bowl viewership has increased by about 80 million, which I’m sure comes as no surprise to most people. Most impressively, last year’s Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts was the most watched program in American TV history, attracting an estimated 106.5 million viewers. To put this in perspective, the current population of the United States is estimated to be around 312 million people. That means that more than one-third of the country was watching one game. In terms of annual sporting events, the Super Bowl is second only to soccer’s UEFA Champions League Final in viewers. What more is there to say? I think the message is clear: The Super Bowl is pretty damn popular.

Now of course, even the Super Bowl is outdone by the FIFA World Cup. Soccer is and probably always will be the most popular sport on the planet. This is evidenced by the fact that more than 700 million people worldwide watched the 2010 World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands. The Super Bowl is unquestionably the championship of choice in America, but it’s got nothing on the World Cup in a global sense.

Now back to the original question. Why is the Super Bowl so much more popular than the World Series in America?

First of all, I think the fact that the NFL season ends with one do-or-die game is a major factor. A champion is determined in one night, and if you miss the game, you miss everything. In baseball, it takes anywhere between four and seven games to determine an ultimate champion. Essentially, each individual game of the World Series is slightly less meaningful.

Secondly, the Super Bowl is hyped far more than any other event in American sports. Sportswriters and analysts have a full two weeks to build up hype for the game. No matter who you are, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be relentlessly pressured to watch the game. The advertising is taken to an extreme, and it has gotten to the point where you can’t even buy a bag of Doritos or a bottle of Coke without being enticed with the chance to win tickets to the game.

As simple as it sounds, the fact that the Super Bowl is played on a Sunday is extremely important. The majority of the nation has off from work on the weekends, and parties are thrown in households around the country. In contrast, World Series games can land on any day of the week, leaving fans with much less time on their hands to sit down in front of their televisions. Don’t forget that nasty winter weather keeps many people inside their homes in February, giving the Super Bowl an edge.

Possibly the most important factor, the Super Bowl comes with a whole circus of attractions. The hilarious commercials, the unique halftime shows, and the media day entertainment all contributes to the overall event. Believe me when I tell you that none of these aspects are lost among the fans. Aside from the actual game play, the only “extra” that comes along with the World Series is the singing of the National anthem.

Commercial airtime is more expensive during the Super Bowl than it is during any other time of the year, which is quite telling. Another interesting note, the Super Bowl is the second largest day for U.S. food consumption, trailing Thanksgiving. The Super Bowl is truly no longer just about the game, so even if you aren’t a huge football fan, you can probably find some type of reason to tune in.

So, is there anything at all that baseball can do to give the NFL and the Super Bowl a run for its money? Quite honestly, I don’t think so. The Super Bowl already enjoys such massive rating advantages, so it may be too late to reverse the trend. Realistically, it takes a seven-game World Series to match the viewing totals of the Super Bowl. I guess a one-game series could improve ratings, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon. If anything, baseball is trying to expand the playoffs right now.

I think baseball would benefit tremendously if they somehow found a way to generate significant and widespread fan interest in teams other than the Yankees, Red Sox, and Phillies. Right now, outside of Texas and San Francisco, no one cares about teams like the Giants and Rangers, and the 2010 World Series showed that. Sure, the Super Bowl features two historic franchises in Green Bay and Pittsburgh this year, but the NFL has found a way to spark nationwide interest in nearly every team. No matter who faces off at the end of the year, the fans will surely be interested. Until Major League Baseball promotes its small-market teams and makes the World Series more than just a set of games, the Super Bowl will be in a league of its own in American sports.