When the game stands too tall
October is one of the best months of the year for sports.
So much goes on in one month that it gets hard to keep track of it all. Hockey and basketball both kick into full gear. Meanwhile, baseball’s elites are taking their final swings at the World Series title. All the while, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase is in its home stretch.
Then there’s football.
Before we go any further, let’s emphasize that this piece addresses American football – the one where people in pads and helmets hit each other and seldom use their feet. The other football, otherwise known as soccer, is another topic for another column.
Now that that’s out of the way, American football is a great exhibition of sporting ability. There’s a lot of thinking and method to the on-field madness of crunching hits and exciting touchdown catches. It’s a great mix of the physical and the mental. What’s not to like?
The answer to that question is “football season.”
It seems contradictory to like football and not to like the season. But, to specify, the irksome part about football season is just how much hype it gets – especially in the media.
Take the sports section of the Nov. 1 “Lawton Constitution” for example.
At the bottom of the front page is the start of a story about the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young season. The top of the next page features a box score and two brief stories regarding Games 4 and 5 of the World Series. Other pages have features on hunting and flashbacks to Lawton-area sports of yore.
Meanwhile, football gets nearly four and a half pages of coverage in the eight-page section, including the majority of the front page and two pages dedicated to the college football week in review and the NFL Sunday preview – both of which take up full-page spreads.
Other newspapers throughout the nation – local or national – tend to have sports pages packed with football. The content may be different, but the point is just the same: football is the king of the sports page.
And that’s just print media.
During football season, sports networks tend to ramp up the football coverage – particularly on ESPN. Saturdays in fall feature the spectacle that is “College GameDay,” the three-hour-long preview show for all the day’s games, packed with features and game predictions.
Flip over to ESPN 2, and “SportsCenter” will provide a welcome reprieve until even more college football coverage happens. Then, at noon Eastern Time, the full day of college football will commence.
Take this amount of coverage, apply it to professional football and add in a quick show about fantasy football – that’s what’s in store for Sundays. The only reason ESPN does not feature more football on the main channel is the lack of rights to airing NFL games outside of Monday Night Football.
These are just a few of the examples of the oversaturation of football content on one network. Other channels with a sports focus do similar things, while many networks are all about football for the brief blocks in which they show games – a practice atypical compared to other Big Four sports.
Baseball has its time to shine with 162 regular season games, a pretty lengthy playoff season and spring training. Add in buzz surrounding the trade deadline and during winter meetings, and there’s some great coverage of baseball.
Basketball also has its days in the limelight. The playoffs are lengthier than baseball’s, and the NBA Finals offer a good alternative to the dog days of an MLB summer. Plus, the NBA Draft draws in good viewership as college players realize their pro dreams.
Outside of the New Year’s Day Winter Classic, hockey’s regular season has dwarfed in comparison to the other three sports since Wayne Gretzky’s retirement. Still, the Stanley Cup playoffs offer up enough buzz that, for up to seven games, the sports world has to pay attention.
Despite all these reasons for press, the other three Big Four sports pale in media comparison to football.
“NFL Countdown” and other similar shows take up prime daytime slots in ESPN’s lineup year-round – an anomaly among sport-specific shows. Add on top of that seemingly endless NFL Draft projections and the numerous follies and misfortunes of various players, and you have enough football coverage to provide A-Block material for sports outlets.
Maybe this media push has caused a shift in the public opinion on what America’s national pastime truly is.
An April 2015 poll from “Bloomberg Politics” showed that around two-thirds of people found football to be the sport at the heart of the nation’s culture. Fewer than thirty per cent of those polled felt baseball still held the title, while five percent were unsure.
Bloomberg’s Will Leitch said that these results were unsurprising. Leitch said that the biggest reason was the media’s constant push of headlines surrounding NFL-related news about concussions, domestic abuse and drug use.
As the old saying goes, if it bleeds, it leads.
So maybe that could explain the inundation of football coverage in sports media. Something is bound to happen when some of the biggest and fastest athletes in the world are colliding with each other in nearly haphazard fashion.
And, if something unfortunate fails to happen on the field, the media and the viewing public can get their dose of Schadenfreude, vilification or similar feelings with the numerous off-field incidents players seem to get themselves in.
If you doubt this assertion, just look up Greg Hardy, Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick.
These cases only bring more attention to a sport that racks in Super Bowl viewership numbers 600 percent higher than the NBA Finals and regular season viewership stats greater than the World Series.
That Super Bowl in and of itself was rife with media saturation – not only because of the game itself but also because of the Deflategate controversy surrounding the Patriots and quarterback Tom Brady. That media storm came to a relative cessation but a few weeks prior to the start of the regular season.
Indeed, there is something to say about the media’s supposed love affair with football.
However, one other thing Leitch pointed out was the fact that baseball is a far superior sport now than it was even forty years ago, especially when it involves the ease with which fans can follow the game.
A look at the Kansas City Royals’ recent ticker tape parade shows how baseball fans still love the game. Thousands flocked the streets to celebrate the team’s first World Series win since 1985.
Even still, baseball does not rake in the numbers football does. Leitch said that this lag is not any fault of baseball’s.
“The minute people realized how easy football was to follow on television – even if it really tells you very little of what’s going on – was the minute baseball stopped being America’s pastime,” he said.
So is it the media causing the rise in viewership? Or is the viewership ramping up the media coverage?
The answer to that question may remain nebulous, but it still proves that there is something about football that keeps people enthralled, whether positively or negatively – all at the expense of other sports trying to get their time in the sun.
So what’s not to like about football? The media fracas that comes with it.