McDonald’s, the NFL and MLB

Forbes says that every day, despite the fact that healthier options exist, McDonalds serves 47 million people worldwide.  McDonald’s has mastered the art of figuring out and then giving people what they want.  Just like McDonald’s, the NFL is constantly trying to tweak its product to maximize profits.  Because of this aggressive business plan, the NFL will always be more popular than Major League Baseball.  The other half of this situation is that Major League Baseball, just like those healthier options, will always be better.

NFL fans criticize MLB for a variety of reasons.  The game is too slow.  The season is too long.  There’s too much money involved.  The chasm between the big spenders and the low budget teams is too big. All those perceptions are what make MLB less popular.  The NFL is perceived to be “faster,” the season is shorter, the money that changes hands is less and the hard salary cap fosters a league of parity.  The reality is, however, most of the arguments as to why MLB is inferior are based on erroneous perception and not fact.

In a culture inundated with smart phones that have millions of capabilities and where fast-food restaurants are now trying out delivery service, we have become unwilling to put up with waiting.  The seconds between pitches is excruciating for people who aren’t baseball fans.  In our sports we Americans place a premium on constant motion, frequent scoring and the drama that is created by those factors.  This is one of those areas where the NFL is more popular based on perception and not on fact.

According to Elias Sports Bureau, a regulation length NFL game only gives fans 12 actual minutes of actual gameplay on average.  The other two hours and 48 minutes that the average NFL game takes in real time is filled with commercials, timeouts, huddles, reviews and ceremonies.  The perception really isn’t about the amount of action as it is about the pace of the action.  Elias also has measured the average amount of real time between snaps in the NFL.  From the time where the ball is spotted to when it is snapped is 26.3 seconds.

Baseballreference.com has figures on the average time between pitches in MLB and the amount of real time when the ball is actually in play.  The gap between pitches is 24.7 seconds and the amount of time on average the ball is actually in play during a MLB game is 12 minutes.  Where have we seen that before?  The fact is that on average a MLB game delivers the same amount of action and moves at a quicker pace than a NFL game does.  Other arguments for the NFL’s superiority are rooted in actual fact, though misunderstood.

The second argument NFL fans champion for that league is that MLB’s season is too long.  This is not another erroneous perception but a legitimate difference that is wrongly unvalued.  Major League Baseball begins Spring Training in late February and the World Series ends in late October.  Yes that’s two months longer than the NFL season.  Yes the number of games being played in MLB is significantly higher (2,430 just in the regular season).  I would argue that this makes MLB better for the fan.  If you look at it from an economic perspective, the law of supply and demand favors the fan.  The more of a product is available, the less those whom control it can demand in return for it.  This is one of the reasons why the average MLB ticket is half the price of the average NFL ticket according to Forbes.  MLB’s longer season and more games mean fans have more opportunities to experience it and can do so without having to save up for weeks prior.

Continuing on the thread of economics, the perception that money is out of control in MLB whereas the NFL has it wrapped up is a matter of erroneous perception and not fact.  If you look at the median team payrolls, it becomes clear that idea is just plain wrong.  The median NFL team payroll is just over $112 million while the median MLB team payroll is just under $89 million.  The perception of the NFL’s being clean of money-grubbing-ness is largely due to the fact that the NFL has a hard salary cap while MLB does not.

The “hardness” of the NFL’s salary cap can be questioned.  If a team is over the cap, it’s not like it can’t play games until it gets under the cap.  Business operates just the same for that team as it does for a team under the cap.  That over the cap team will face fines by the league and criticism from other franchises, but those are the only penalties.  The “hard” salary cap is in reality more of a luxury tax, which has been in place in MLB for years.  If you think the NFL’s version of the luxury tax has produced better parity, you’re once again mistaken.

In both leagues, five teams have won over half of the championships.  The difference between the NFL and MLB comes when you look at the other teams beyond those top five.  20 teams in the NFL (63% of the league) have won one or zero Super Bowls.  In MLB only 10 teams (33% of the league) have one or zero World Series wins, which means two-thirds of MLB’s franchises have multiple championships.

Despite all these facts, the NFL will always be more popular than MLB for the same reason that McDonald’s is more popular than your local soup and salad place.  It’s a cultural icon and the perception is that it’s more exciting.  Just like McDonald’s, however, it is outdone in matters of substance.  The truth is that MLB is better sports fan nutrition.  It’s more economical, moves at a faster pace, has better parity and is less dictated by the almighty dollar.  If you can be an intelligent fan and see past the spinning lights and bright balloons the NFL throws at you, you’ll see that MLB has a better game awaiting you.

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