Photo of the field at Globe Life Park in Arlington, home of the Texas Rangers. 

The National Football League and Major League Baseball are the two most popular sports in the United States. The months of February and March are the most dreaded months in many fans' calendar year with no football or baseball to entertain them. Many NFL fans even made solid attempts to watch Arena Football when it was still active. Since 1998, the NBA has lost nearly 30% of its audience. What attributes for the decline in the NBA's ratings?

  • Internationalization. By definition, internationalization means an attempt to increase involvement in international markets. The NBA now presents names such as Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, Pao Gasol, Leandro Barbosa, Manu Ginobli, Tony Parker, Luol Deng, Andrea Bargnani. These are not players that we keep up with while they attended American high schools, these are not players that played for our alma maters. Sure, these players have a plethora of talent, but we as Americans show more support for those from the United States.
  • The Hip-Hop Movement. The clean cut image of the NBA is long gone. Remember just a few years back when NBA Commissioner David Stern decided to implement a dress code for players before and after the games? The league wide dress code essentially banned all clothing associated with the hip-hop culture such as jerseys, baggy jeans, do-rags, and Timberland style boots.
  • Lack of development of younger basketball players. Kevin Garnett shocked the world when he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft in 1995. Only three such players had made the leap from high school to the NBA before Garnett. Stars like Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and Tracy McGrady followed. But this sudden trend also swayed the decisions of players that didn't fare so well including Korleone Young, Jonathon Bender, Leon Smith, Kwame Brown, Gerald Green and Ousmane Cisse. And these are only some of the players that never went to high school. There were plenty of college players who should have stayed in college such as Corey Maggette, Omar Cook, Darius Washington, Jay Williams. The trend is still ongoing and is hurting both the NBA and NCAA Basketball who could use these young men. Players are no longer as fundamentally sound as once before.

Major League Baseball, on the other hand, develops their players to the maximum. Most major leaguers don't even reach the majors until they are 24 or 25 years of age. The sole reason college baseball is not as popular as college football and basketball is because all of the talent goes straight to the minors, surpassing the college ranks. Baseball has maintained its clean-cut image, although the game has grown on an international level, especially in Latin America. While still considered as America's favorite pastime, baseball allows fans to identify with classic teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Is the National Hockey League's lack of popularity in America based on geography?  Many think so. Hockey is associated with cold weather. Outside of hockey-crazed Canada, the biggest market teams are all in the North including the Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers.  My late step-father grew up outside of Worchester, Massachusetts and had many memories of the local ponds freezing over so that hockey could be played. The NHL has clearly made an attempt to spark an interest in the southern United States with franchises like the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets), San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers.

The lack of media coverage of Hockey in the United States makes it hard for potential fans to gain interest in the sport. How often is the NHL featured on ESPN? Then again, the media typically follows where the interest is.

And finally, others are now starting to crown the NFL as America's favorite pastime. What has contributed to its booming popularity? Fantasy football is one factor as it is highly interactive and requires a lot of strategy and attention. Another factor is that more people have played football in their past than any other sport, it is the ultimate team sport. High school football teams typically have more than 50 players on a single team, so the fans have a stronger understanding for what is happening on the field during NFL games. Football also encourages more of a party atmosphere with all of the beer, food, tailgating and rivalries. There are only sixteen games a season; each Sunday has a purpose, unlike the other 3 leagues.

 

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