According to the game’s historians, the phrase “The National Pastime” was first used to tout baseball’s popularity in the United States by the New York Mercury newspaper on Dec. 5, 1856.
In the 162 years since, a number of competitors have contended for the throne, claiming to be the object of affection of the American sports fan.
Or have you forgotten about the USFL and WHA?
Of course, no sport has pushed baseball’s buttons more effectively than the NFL, especially since the 1970 merger moved the sport into the technicolor of the nation’s sports consciousness.
Jack Whitaker and Tom Brookshier. Ray Scott and Pat Summerall. How sweet was that?
We offer this brief history lesson in order to break some very bad news to you, especially to the fans in Boston and Milwaukee who love the Red Sox and Patriots, Brewers and Packers.
Before we do, think about this: If you were on a lifeboat with Tom Brady and Mookie Betts or Aaron Rodgers and Christian Yelich, and had to throw one overboard to survive, who would it be?
Life is already tough enough once September rolls around. That’s when NFL games start popping up on the same day and time as the Sox and Brewers.
What do you do? Who do you chose? It’s impossible, especially if both teams are contending or playing compelling games.
Well, get ready Red Sox and Patriots fans.
On Sunday, Game 2 of the ALCS between the Red Sox and the Houston Astros at Fenway Park will begin on TBS at 7:09 p.m. ET. About one hour later, the New England Patriots will host the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football on NBC.
Really, not kidding.
Unless you are content to spend two hours toggling with the remote, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, you will be forced to choose between your two loves.
As for you fans of the Brewers and Packers, your time to choose will be Monday.
That’s when Game 3 of the NLCS between the Brew Crew and Los Angeles Dodgers will be played. With no competing American League game on the docket, the game will be played in primetime, starting at 7:39 p.m. ET. Well, at 8:15, the San Francisco 49ers and Packers will play on Monday Night Football.
Really, not kidding.
If this were science, this dilemma would serve as the perfect experiment to measure the popularity of the MLB postseason vs. NFL regular season games. Then again, maybe this is a science experiment after all.
MLB did pretty well on television this season. Attendance was down, but viewership of games on the many regional sports networks (like YES, NESN, SNY) in primetime was up slightly. However, Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN has suffered this season.
As for the NFL, you may have heard President Trump say how happy he is that the sport’s broadcast and cable ratings are down since Colin Kaepernick’s kneel set off the national anthem debate.
Turns out, NFL ratings have dropped somewhat — everyone has an uncle or cousin who refuses to watch anymore. But that’s the truth for just about every show on television in this age of streaming. But according to a study conducted by USA Today, the league is still a sexy siren. NFL games were three most-watched shows in 2017, six of the top 10. And Sunday Night Football was the most-watched regularly scheduled series last year.
Let’s look back at last year when the World Series clashed with Sunday Night Football.
Fox’s telecast of Game 5 of the World Series between the Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers wiped out the football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions. Broadcast analytics called it a rout, MLB viewership 36 percent higher than the NFL.
Was that an aberration? Apparently not.
In 2016, the SportsBusiness Daily said the Game 5 of the World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians blew out the Dallas Cowboys win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football.
What does that tell us? Perhaps that MLB’s postseason still is the national pastime. Not that it makes your decision this weekend any easier, of course.