Baseball has always been America’s pastime but in 2020, football has a lot to say about that. If we take into account the fact that college football is almost as popular in the NFL, can football overtake baseball as America’s pastime? 

Baseball Was America’s Pastime Before Football Existed

One of the main reasons that baseball is known as “America’s Pastime” is how long it’s been around. The MLB was founded back in 1903 but baseball had already been around for over a quarter-century before that. The National League and American league operated as separate entities until merging in 1903. The National League was actually founded in 1876 which explains why it’s so ingrained in American culture.

Everybody has heard of Babe Ruth even though he was dead by 1948. The first Super Bowl wasn’t held until 1967 so the reality is, baseball has had a massive head start. A generation is usually considered approximately 30 years. If that’s the case, by the time the first Super Bowl was played, at least 2-3 generations of Americans had already been watching baseball by the time football really got its act together.

Violence in Football Slowed Progress

One of the main reasons that baseball was able to become more popular and widely accepted than football is the violence associated with early football. The first legal forward pass thrown in football happened in 1906. The first recorded college football game happened back in 1869 but it barely resembles the sport we know today. With no forward passing allowed for almost 40 years, early days of football were more like bloodbaths. The problem back then is teams used to use formations where the ball carrier would run surrounded by most of his teammates who would run at full speed into their opponents to help drive them forward. The formation known as the “flying wedge” causes so many injuries that it is banned in both football and rugby on a global level.

Before this ban occurred, things got so bad at one point that in 1905, 19 people across the country had died from injuries sustained while playing football. When you compare that to baseball, it’s easy to see why Americans especially back then, looked at football as an uncivilized game.

Baseball No Longer as Popular with Young People

A Gallup poll last year showed that only 9% of Americans listed baseball as their favorite sport. While polls should be taken with a grain of salt, it is important to note that the Gallup poll has been around for a long time. It has also been asking this question for long enough that we can use its data as a point of reference. You see the last time that the Gallup poll has been around since the late 1930’s and this question has been on it every year since. Last year was the lowest number ever recorded.

That’s not a new trend either when you start looking at baseball’s demographics. For the last decade, most polls will show that the average baseball fan is between 50-57 years old. Obviously advertisers are going to be keen on spending money on a sport outside of their target audience. If you can’t attract the interest of young people, your ad revenue is sure to suffer. While there could be several reasons for this, the pace at which baseball is played has to be one of the main culprits. A baseball game will take no less than 3 hours and sometimes can go 4+ hours. That’s simply too long for this generation. On top of that, because there is so much downtime (in between pitches, innings, and all of the other stoppages) the entire pace of a baseball game seems like happening in slow motion. On top of all of that, there are 162 games in a season. Again, in the era of shorter attention spans, it won’t be easy to keep people interested in a 162 game marathon.

Football Has Become More American Than Baseball

This is not something that people might be aware of consciously but the fact that baseball. Today Jackie Robinson is seen as a hero for breaking the color barrier in baseball. If Robinson were alive today, he would be proud to see all of the African Americans and Latino players involved in the game today. He probably also was a little shocked to find out that almost 1 out of every 3 major league player is born outside of the United States. When you compared that to football where 1 out of every 30 players is born outside of the U.S, you can see where this is going.

Baseball is a much more popular sport globally than football. Americans dominate professional football while globally, the only other league that is anywhere close to the NFL is the CFL (Canadian Football League) which is still composed of 50% Americans.

At the end of the day, football has become more American than baseball. More Americans follow football and participate in it than baseball. Of the 50 most-watched television broadcasts in 2019, 41 of them were NFL games. Major League baseball only had one game crack the top 50 and that was Game 7 of the world series. When baseball’s most important game of the year is less viewed than 41 football games, most of which would have to logically be regular-season games, then we have our answer. Football already passed baseball as America’s game a long time ago.