Baseball Wise, Football Foolish

While flailing away on a climbing machine at the gym today I came across an economically interesting factoid from a September issue of ESPN Magazine. I’ll get the specifics wrong, but the details were something like this: Baseball permits fans who catch errant balls to take those balls home; football forbids that sort of thing, and even has a fine for rule-breakers.

Why the diference? Largely because, or so the article argued, baseballs are much cheaper than footballs, so respective league organizers have different views of things.

But here’s the fun part. Because major league baseball permits fans to take balls home, huge numbers of balls exit the park every night. In addition to the foul balls hit into the stands, there are others, including some from players who are fond of tossing balls out after the third out and other plays.

The result: Baseball’s annual cost from baseball shrinkage is something like $500,000, while football’s losses are a fraction of that.


  1. And for that small sum, baseball games attract a passionate contingency of diehards and hopefuls who show up at games with gloves on hand, eager to bring home a small piece of sporting history. I have a friend who has caught two balls hit by his beloved Mets (a third one slipped from his fingers), and he still bores me to death with the stories to this day.

  2. Yeah I agree with Adam about this especiall the user experience while on the stadium. This is the very reason why so much people prefer to watch football at home 😛

  3. Or put another way:
    $246 per baseball game
    I was always surprised the NFL did not allow balls to be taken home. Also considering that
    it is a rarity a ball end up in the stands.

  4. I think both strategies could be “correct” from each league’s perspective. As Adam says, catching a foul ball is part of the allure of going to a baseball game (I have two and treasure both). Not only that, but nearly every seat in a stadium faces the possibility of catching a ball. In football, however, only a tiny fraction of fans could possibly catch a ball (those sitting in the lower decks facing the end zones in the center 30 or so seats), so no one goes to a game with the expectation of even an opportunity at catching a “foul football.”
    At minor league baseball games I’ve attended, teams are too cash-strapped to allow fans to keep baseballs, but usually reward those who catch fouls as they can, like by offering a free hot dog or bag of candy from the concession stand for every foul ball retrieved. This can create roving hordes of kids in the area behind the stands where foul pops sometimes land.