What would it take for one of the four major American sports leagues to disappear?

There have been labor disputes in each of the four main American sports over the past 20 or 30 years, resulting in lost games, shortened seasons, and even entirely lost seasons, like the NHL’s in 2004-05.

Is it possible that one of these days, a labor dispute, or lost profitability, will eventually lead to the demise of one of the four major American sports leagues? Baseball is often touted as a candidate; its games are considered too long to watch by many people.

I would bet on the NFL disappearing before the other 3 major sports. The concussion issue is dwindling the young player base which will eventually lower the quality of the sport which will decrease interest and the decrease the money. Eventually I think the NFL will go the way of boxing.

I always felt that boxing died because it went from free to view to pay-per-view. In that respect, the NFL is the polar opposite of boxing.

If I was a betting man, I’d pick the MLB as the first league to fold, although it will be a very gradual process of slowly bleeding off followers. My best guess is that in the far future there will still be a small niche of hardcore baseball fans who can prop up a much more condensed league, but certainly not one on the scale of the MLB as we know it today (think of the barnstorming Yankees from Interstellar).

American football and basketball are way more ingrained in America’s cultural zeitgeist at the moment, just look at how much more public adulation the stars in those sports command compared to baseball. Kyler Murray was drafted with the 9th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, but chose to go into the NFL instead (as the 1st overall pick, no less!) and so far it is looking like he made the right decision. So the NFL and NBA will be safe for quite a while.

As long as Canada exists, the NHL will exist, so I’m pretty sure that league won’t be the first one to fall either. Heck, they were the only league to ever lose a full season to a work stoppage, yet that didn’t really seem to hurt their long term prospects as they’ve roared back to be stronger than ever (at least to this untrained eye who doesn’t really follow ice hockey except for occasional highlights).

It seems amazing, but I’d also say the NFL. The concussion issue isn’t going away and I can see more and more high schools dropping it. Plus the NFL seems determined to kill the golden goose by expanding the schedule, a bunch of lousy football with a 4th string QB isn’t very appealing. And, they’re moving one playoff game to cable this season. I doubt that’ll be the last. Also, the relentless focus on gambling doesn’t help. I have nothing against gambling but I’m tired of hearing about it when I follow the sport

People have been saying the concussion issue would kill the NFL for years now. There is no evidence at all that it’s true. In fact, if anything, the issue is far less public than it used to be.

It’s also one that could flare up at any time at the high school, college or pro levels.

There is lots of evidence of less football teams at the high school level as well as lower number of players. Though after a quick Google I can’t find recent news stories about it since most of what I can find is covid canceling football seasons.

My friends who are coaches have talked about less teams in their peewee leagues and smaller roasters on their high school teams. My high school had 200+ kids in the football program 20 years ago with three teams now its down to just varsity and junior varsity and had to drop their freshman team and there less than 150 kids in the program.

I’m not calling for the death of the NFL today but we are already seeing a shrinking of the player pool. If the most talented athletes choose a sport outside of football the relative quality will shift, eventually, enough to decrease the money the players are getting which will then make it less likely for the next great athletes to play football. I’d still guess 50-60 years before this cycle plays out.

When my son was in high school (he’s 27 now) he signed up as “interested” in football, strategically to gain access to the gym over summer break. He worked out all summer, but then did not try out for football.

The coach contacted me, telling me my son would likely be a starter, wanting me to convince him to play. I was thrilled to learn that he wouldn’t be trying out, though. Apparently they had barely enough warm bodies to field a team.

A nuclear war would probably cause at least one of them to disappear, but I’m having trouble visualizing a less severe scenario where it happens.

I wish the NFL would disappear. They liked to their players about the brain damage hazard, and have done little it nothing to mitigate it.

But I’m not optimistic.

I dunno, they’re sure trying to protect the quarterbacks.

I don’t really see any of them going anywhere in my lifetime or the lifetimes of our grandchildren even etc. Superficially the MLB seems to be in the “worst” shape, but I actually think in some sense it’s the most durable of the four leagues. MLB has continually found ways to keep making tons of money–2019 was the highest revenue year they’ve ever had.

It’s been a few years since I’ve seen updates to the data, but back in 2017 or so baseball (combined with its cousin softball) was the most played sport in America at the youth + adult level in terms of participation in organized leagues. (I assume in terms of non-organized play, basketball has to be #1 just because it requires so few players to play an impromptu game and there are public courts damn near everywhere, not to mention how easy it is to setup a neighborhood hoop etc.)

MLB has really lost massively at TV eyeballs, but seems to have found a formula to keep going strong without them.

NHL is so popular in Canada that unless Canada disappears, I can’t see it going anywhere, and while it’s outside my wheelhouse, my understanding is parts of the United States–particularly the parts near Canada (upper Midwest, the Northeast) are very diehard into hockey as well, with it being a common game played at the High School and collegiate level.

This reminds me of (of all things) a minor sideplot in a ST:TNG novel (I have no idea which one) where one of Data’s “learning about humanity” ideas involved a holodeck recreation of a mid-21st-century pro baseball team during the “last hurrah” stage of the league.

Baseball was also a recurring plot element in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Sisko was a big fan of baseball, which, by the 24th Century, had been reduced to a curiosity. Sisko’s favorite historical player was a guy named Buck Bokai, who played in the early 21st Century (he would be an active player right now, in fact). In one episode (originally aired in 1995), it was mentioned that Bokai played in the final World Series in 2042, the final game of which was attended by only 300 fans.

They were afraid MLB wouldn’t recover from that big strike or lockout or whatever it was about twenty years ago. I guess they were wrong. They were so wrong, I can’t even remember when it was.

Probably the 1994-95 strike, which wiped out the 1994 postseason.

It’s felt by some that the home run races between Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997, and then between McGwire and Sammy Sosa in 1998, helped to rekindle fan interest that had been lost due to the strike. (Of course, it later came out that McGwire and Sosa, among many others, were using PEDs, which tarnished those numbers.)

Now you got me CTing that MLB looked the other way over the doping in order to increase fan appeal.

Hey, I’m just asking questions here!

Frankly, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable hypothesis. It took the Congressional investigations in 2005 and 2006 to reveal just how widespread PED usage was in the game, and to get MLB to actually institute an anti-doping policy that had some teeth to it.

I guess I don’t really see any of the big ones “disappearing.” All of them can be scaled down significantly and still function for a fraction of the number of current fans.

We’ve still got a million kids playing high school football and the numbers are actually increasing in a few states (mostly southern, mostly red). I like conjecturing about future cultural changes as much as anyone, and more than most, but I’m not ready to say that the next generations of parents are ready yet to prevent their kids from playing football.