The way I've always viewed the Big Four is this way:
1. The NFL is the league in America that everyone--or as near to everyone as is possible in this country--is invested in to some degree or another, and the Super Bowl is without a doubt the one sporting event out of the year where almost everyone watches...not just the fans, but just those who like the festive atmosphere and pre-game and halftime shows and commercials and big plays and shouting and drinking...
So the NFL is easily the most popular in America, but it's also LIMITED, mostly, to America in that respect.
2. MLB is very much, I find, more and more "America's Game," which of course football now claims to be, but really, I'd say it's not--it's the most popular sport, but not most representative of America...in the NFL, you have *mostly* black and white players, with some Latinos joining in now...in baseball, EVERYONE plays--whites, blacks, Mexicans, Venezuelans, Cubans, players from other Latin American nations, there are Japanese and Taiwanese players...it's a lot more diverse, and I think that's it's biggest strength as a sport, and it's the reason it's stayed popular, because while it might be the #2 sport right now to football, it's sort of like the English language in a World Linguistics setting--
Just as English is the most-spoken second-language in the world, even though Chinese has more native speakers, likewise, even though the NFL is #1 overall in terms of popularity in America, it's still a #2 sport for many of not most of the nation, and to generalize just a bit, for some minorities--Latinos and Asians come to mind--who might not immediately be drawn to the NBA or NHL or even NFL for a lack of cultural connection, MLB is a #1 or #2 (in this instance behind soccer) sport once again...after all, very few prominent Asian basketball players, and no prominent Asian hockey players, but surely there are prominent Asian baseball players, so it's in this way, as the most popular #2 sport in America, that MLB really is surviving and to an extent thriving right now...not the favorite sport of many (myself excluded, I love my 49ers and Anaheim Ducks, but the Mets come first for me) but still, nearly everyone is invested to at least some extent...it's ingrained into our culture enough that if the Yankees or Red Sox or, here in LA, the Dodgers are playing, the average person will follow them in passing on the news, and then maybe watch or take in a game or two when they really start to contend.
3. The NBA is the sport, it seems, that swings the most radically of the Four in terms of popularity--either everyone is talking about Magic/MJ/Kobe and Shaq/Lebron, or else no one cares...part of that's due to how the game is built--five starters and ten or so more off the bench means a small team and a reliance on star power, and if your regional team doesn't have it, chances are you don't care about that team, and possibly about the game...if you care about anyone, it's the Kobe Bryants and Lebron Jameses, but then, that's not being a fan of the game, that's following these players as one would follow celebrities, and its no surprise, thus, that the "Celebrity Culture" and NBA players and teams overflow and overlap the most out of all the Big Four leagues...the elephant in the room, of course, is the idea that black people IN GENERAL are more inclined to like or follow the NBA than those of other races as, well, most of the the NBA is made up of black players, and try as one may to skirt that issue for PC reasons, without a grain of racism intended, there is some truth to that assertion, while admitting, of course, that it's a generalized point and thus not obviously applicable to everyone...the point I make here is that, between a large portion of the base of the NBA being comprised of a minority group in the USA, and many people's rejection of the league specifically because of it's image of connecting with celebrities and wealth--not all too popular in a Great Recession America--the NBA as a SPORT is less popular than MLB, I'd say, while the individual rivalries--say, Lebron vs. Kobe--draw larger ratings than most non-playoff or Yankees/Red Sox-esque MLB matchups.
(I'd also note that I'm not a fan of a sport where you score repeatedly every minute as that seems to dilute the importance or specialty of the act, but that's a matter of personal taste and not an attempt at an objective observation.)
4. The NHL is in an odd position of being the smallest market, the most stable internally in one sense, and the most unstable internally in another sense...that is, the NHL has a fan-base in certain regions--Canada, the Northern and Northeastern US, the Atlantic Coast of the US down to the Mason-Dixon line, and by this point, with all three teams being playoff contenders in the last few years and the Kings just winning the Cup, California as well--that it can count on...there are no worries, for the most part, that there will be a lack of interest or support for a Canadian team now, or for the Rangers or Bruins, or Capitals or Wild, or even, again, the Sharks, Ducks, or Kings given the strength of the ownership groups there, the increased interest in hockey in the region, and the fact the three California teams form a nice rivalry that has really solidified its popularity here, as all three teams have had playoff runs in the last few years, and here in California Bay Area fans love to root against LA fans love to root against Anaheim/Orange County fans and so on in a circle...
So for 2/3 of the league, the situation is sound, and the NHL can rest assured on there...the instability comes from the other 1/3, all the teams (minus the long-standing St. Louis Blues) in Middle and Southern America...hockey (to generalize again) really only historically has an appeal for a white demographic (though there obviously have been black and Latino players, and I can say here in LA County, while they were vastly outnumbered by the white fans, there were some Latino LA Kings fans as well rooting for them to win the Cup, T-shirts and all) and so has a narrower base to work off of, and that, combined with the folly of trying to get people in a recession-hit desert like Arizona to go and see a game played in a frozen environment that is completely alien to the 110 degree heat of Phoenix, endangers the league, and keeps it in 4th in the US, yet ironically 1st or 2nd in popularity worldwide, given it's overseas history...so it's a smaller fan-base, but for those areas where the NHL can depend upon attendance, it's a more solid fan-base than, say, the NBA, where playing basketball in Toronto or Minnesota is nowhere near the near from-birth institution hockey is or can be, and if the Knicks or Nets aren't good, people don't go out and see them, whereas the Maple Leafs and Canadiens have fallen on hard times and still draw well, and so it goes throughout the league.
If I were to REALLY generalize...
I'd say the largest group of people follow the NFL as their #1 and MLB as their #2, and then pick the NBA, NHL, Soccer or NASCAR, depending on their ethnicity and region (again, to over-generalize) for their #3, and anything after that is up in the air.
White and from the Northern US, chances you'll follow some NHL action go up...
Latino, and the chances it's soccer go up...
Black and/or from LA or Boston (the two title towns) and, again, to over-generalize, chances it's the NBA you'll follow go up...
From the South, and the chances you'll follow NASCAR go up.
Again, to GENERALIZE, I realize first-hand how flimsy that distinction can be...I'm near LA, but don't follow basketball...however, I'm white and follow hockey, so whatever, make of it what you will.
To close with a last word on MLB, though:
All the other sports--soccer, hockey, NASCAR, basketball, and football--are all fun and all have their place in the American sports scene...
Bu what will keep MLB relevant in America, barring further strikes or scandals, is, simply put, again, it's demographics.
Almost all of the NHL is white.
Almost all of NASCAR is white.
The majority of the NBA is black.
The majority of the NFL is white and black.
But BASEBALL is truly diverse--whites, blacks, Asians, and Latinos ALL play it, and THAT'S closer to the makeup of America...
And actually, I don't know about the rest of you, but here near LA, the makeup of MLB--whites and Latinos making up the two largest groups, then blacks, then Asians--matches the demographics of LA perfectly.
It's structure may be slower than the other sports, but ultimately, it's structure also works to its advantage--it can be intense enough to grip you and hold you in October, yet lazy enough that you can just enjoy the summer sun with baseball in the background in June...what's more, there's no clock, no way to cheat the other team of it's chance to tie the game up--
You may be the Yankees and up 3-0 in the series and leading in Game 4, but you HAVE to give the Red Sox their final chance at bat, you can't sit on the ball or run out the clock, and the Red Sox can't just sub in their best player, they have to send in who's due up or someone from the bench, they're due naught but their equal shot that night...and the next night...and the next night...and the next night.
And for all the talk of baseball being a game of numbers, there's something more poetic and democratic about that than a calculated effort to run out an artificial clock.
THAT'S what keeps MLB going and keeps it America's Game--
White, Black, Latino, Asian, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian--
Whatever your ethnicity or religious stance or political position, EVERYONE finds something or someone in baseball to become connected in.
And THAT'S why baseball has marked the times, and reminds us of all that once was good--and could be again.
Last edited by Shea Knight; 06-24-2012 at 08:54 AM.
"Ya Gotta Believe!" -Tug McGraw ... "How we deal with death is at least as important as how we deal with life." -James T. Kirk ... "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." -Sherlock Holmes ... "It is out of the deepest depth that the highest must come to its height." -Friedrich Nietzsche ... "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Hamlet