Wednesday's Game 1 drew 14.4 million viewers. That's slightly up from last year's Game 1, but 2012 was the least-watched Fall Classic of all time. It's been a steady downward trend for the World Series over the least 35 years or so, from a time when the majority of Americans would tune in. To put it in context, 14.4 million viewers is just about how many watched Monday night's unwatchable Vikings-Giants game. Keith Olberman has a theory.
In his essay that night, Olbermann contrasted the usual explanation—the general fracturing of viewership thanks to the rise of cable—with the NFL's national strategy. Early on, football actively promoted the idea of national teams, putting the Cowboys and Packers and the like on television every week, growing fanbases not tied down by geography. I'm not sure if this is precisely it—teams like the Red Sox and Yankees get a disproportionate amount of national games, and have far-flung supporters—but it's absolutely true that football is a national game. A poll Olbermann cited found that half of all baseball fans will only watch games involving their team; while nearly as many, 40 percent of football fans will turn off a game involving their team to watch a better NFL game.
It's a function of being a one-day-a-week thing more than anything. Sunday is football day. Thanks to the collective immersion, and the reinforcement of fantasy football, the NFL is an event. The teams playing are almost irrelevant. But in baseball, loyalties rule all, and the vast majority of Americans couldn't care less whether the Red Sox or Cardinals win. It's a generational thing—the median age of World Series viewers has steadily outpaced the median age of the U.S. population. Maybe it's cyclical, and America's pastime isn't past its time. Or maybe baseball is on its way to being a niche sport, like everything else that isn't football.