Dan Edmonson: Measuring Baseball’s Popularity

2012 Predictions: Major League Baseball will set an all-time attendance record and Bud Selig will announce that “the game has never been more popular”.

While I don’t dispute my favorite sport’s popularity, I question the statistics we use to measure it.  Basically, this post is an open question: what is the best way to measure one sport’s popularity against another?  

There needs to be a better way to measure both breadth and depth of fan intensity.

With its long schedule and massive stadiums, baseball easily trounces other sports in terms of total attendance.  The same holds true when it comes to total fan dollars spent, games attended, and time spent watching.  By many standards, baseball easily passes the popularity of its counterparts in American sports.  

Major League Baseball set an all time attendance record in 2007 when each team averaged a total attendance of 2,527,968, but few observers would refer to the ‘07 season as the “golden age” of baseball popularity.  

The NFL, on the other hand, dominates television ratings throughout its limited schedule.  Last year’s Super Bowl was the most viewed television program in U.S. history.  Yet, the Super Bowl may be the only sporting event watched by many audience members in a single year.

Partly due to problems in the Dodgers and Mets organizations, baseball’s total attendance was slightly down in 2011, as teams averaged 2,447,552. A rebound is expected in 2012, and baseball will likely set overall attendance records.

Since their inception, the Marlins have consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in attendance.  That should change this season.  The Miami Marlins will debut their new stadium in 2012, and will likely transform themselves into an above-average attendance draw.  The anticipated bump from the usual stadium emptiness to expected full houses should be enough to push the overall MLB number to a new high, and Bud Selig will deem 2012 as the “new golden era” of baseball popularity.   

My question is, what is the most appropriate way to measure a sport’s popularity? Which metric is most significant; television ratings, attendance, or league revenue?  I don’t have a good answer.

Dan Edmonson is a Texas Rangers blogger and lifelong baseball fan.

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