Major League Baseball still leads the NBA when it comes to popularity

The death of baseball has been greatly exaggerated.

We recently ran a chart that showed that the popularity of baseball amongst sports fans was on the rise as the gap between the popularity of the NFL and MLB is at it’s lowest point in four years and the gap between MLB and the NBA is widening. This despite the feeling among many that the NBA is either approaching or has already surpassed baseball in terms of popularity.

One problem with that data is that they only asked fans to name their favourite sport and did not account for fans that follow more than one sport closely. However, even if we break it down by degrees, we still see that baseball is clearly more popular than the NBA.

In a recent survey of Americans, 18 years old or older, 15% follow MLB “very closely,” compared to just 10% for the NBA according to data collected by Statista. Meanwhile, 56% of Americans don’t follow the NBA at all, compared to 47% for MLB.

In other words, 50% more Americans follow MLB closely. That’s a huge gap.

The other rampant theory on the popularity of the two sports is that NBA resonates better with younger fans and thus when those fans get older, the NBA will blow past MLB.

MLB does have a big drop-off when it comes to young fans, however, there is no indication that younger fans are more interested in the NBA. Among fans 18-29 years old, 20% follow both sports “very closely” or “somewhat closely.” However, the percentage of fans following MLB “very closely” (8%) is double that of the NBA (4%)

The one place the NBA dominates Major League Baseball is postseason television ratings and this is a huge problem for baseball.

Despite lasting just five games, the 2014 NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million viewers compared to just 13.8 million viewers for the World Series, according to data obtained by, and it would have been much worse if there was not a game seven in the Fall Classic.

When it comes to World Series TV ratings, MLB’s problem is not a lack of fans, but rather, getting those fans interested in the Fall classic, even if their team is not playing. And, this has to be done after those fans invested so much in a 6-month regular season.

This can be seen in local TV ratings during the regular season where even a team like the Tampa Bay Rays has an average TV audience of nearly 90,000 fans watching an average game in their home market which is comparable to the local audience size for the Chicago Bulls, one of the biggest markets in the NBA (105,000 in 2014).

New commissioner Rob Manfred will have his hands full trying to boost the World Series ratings. But getting fans that already exist to watch one 7-game series seems like an easier task than getting the NBA to grow its fan base.

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