Saturday, November 07, 2015

More people probably watched AfterMASH than the World Series

An article appeared this week written by Michael Mulvihill, the Senior Vice President of Programming, Research, & Content Strategy for Fox Sports. In the article, he makes the case that World Series rating numbers need to be judged in context. There are now so many more alternative choices and he feels it is unfair to compare today’s numbers with those of forty years ago when there were only three networks. He spells it out better than I do but I believe that’s the gist.

Mr. Mulvihill contends we must judge World Series numbers with non-sports hits. Doing that, the World Series is doing just as well today with an 8.7 rating as it did forty years ago with a rating of 28.7.

That’s a lovely spin, but I think you have to look further.

No matter how many other choices we have, if there’s a mega event, it will still get enormous ratings. That’s the one time major broadcast networks still rule. They’re free and available in every home.

The Super Bowl’s numbers are not a third of what they were forty years ago. The World Series used to be in that category. It’s not anymore. Whether it’s on Fox or NBC.

Major League Baseball has strengthened its brand and added playoffs, instituted interleague play, and created regional networks, but it comes at the expense of its once-biggest attraction.

And sure, there are extenuating factors. Big marquee teams like the Yankees and Dodgers and (hopefully in my lifetime) the Cubs will draw more interest than Tampa Bay or (hopefully in my lifetime) Seattle. If a series goes seven games instead of four it’s more competitive and that builds an audience. Are there stars competing? Does anyone other that baseball fans know who these guys are? Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio? Or even Barry Bonds?

And then there’s the presentation itself. Joe Buck has his admirers but also his haters. I doubt if there would be petition campaigns to get rid of Vin Scully. (For the record, I like Joe Buck.) Still, I think presentation is a minor factor. If you want to watch the World Series you will. NOTE TO FOX though: Dump Harold Reynolds and hire Alex Rodriguez. He was GREAT (and I don’t like Alex Rodriguez).

The bottom line: Yes, there are more choices, but there are also more people in America than there were forty years ago. The World Series should be a juggernaut. Fox and MLB should not be popping champagne because it finishes third behind THE BIG BANG THEORY.

Oh, and just remember, since we’re spinning numbers – more people watched AfterMASH than THE BIG BANG THEORY. I’m just sayin’.

34 comments:

William said...

Michael Mulvihill is absolutely right. Even though the Super Bowl is an exception (but, let’s be honest, how much of that is because the day as become a quasi-holiday almost separate from the game itself), ratings for all big events are down (see chart in the link below). Aside from the context of the TV landscape, the World Series is additionally challenged in the modern time because of the saturation level of baseball. During the regular season, fans now have easy access to thousands of games. The novelty of any single game, including the World Series is therefore necessarily reduced. I am diehard, but must admit that after the exhaustion of the regular season, I don’t really go out of my way to watch a postseason game in which I do not have a strong rooting interest.

I am not sure why so many lament World Series ratings, but suspect it’s nostalgia. However, I don’t think the teams are being wistful. I am pretty sure they enjoy signing billion dollar local rights deals and having a digital arm that itself could IPO for billions. The fact that the World Series gets swallowed up by this context is a small price to pay, and in no way reflects poorly on the health of the sport.

http://www.captainsblog.info/2013/10/26/game-over-olbermanns-world-series-lament-has-lots-of-swings-and-misses/20862/

Curt Alliaume said...

MLB's business model isn't comparable to the NFL's. MLB is much more dependent on regional coverage and people going to the ballpark than the NFL (which, of course, doesn't have regional coverage). The example is when MLB had the Game of the Week on Saturdays (on CBS in the 1950s and NBC in the 1960s through 1980s), which never drew well in markets where the local team was airing. Baseball fans are more interested in seeing their own team; football fans are conditioned to watch any game.

This article from last year (which links to a Forbes article) makes a solid case.

http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/eye-on-baseball/24649044/mlb-a-regional-tv-ratings-monster

Bill Avena said...

"Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage."
-Krusty the Clown on the debut of Poochie.

Anonymous said...

Sign the biggest musical acts (e.g. Taylor Swift) to play 3 numbers during each seventh inning stretch.

DonBoy said...

Now I'm thinking about afterBANG, which probably just features Stuart. Oh, and Kripke.

Howard Hoffman said...

Right? A-Rod was a very happy surprise. A total dick in the uniform, but a terrific and even humble presence as a commentator. He's double proof of good coaching.

Bill Jones said...

I'm with Ken on this one. Game 5 of the series, in which the Royals clinched, was opposite a regular-season Sunday Night Football matchup featuring Peyton Manning vs. Aaron Rodgers. Granted, those are two of the NFL's marquee quarterbacks, and the two teams were undefeated, but it was still just a regular-season game (in the first half of the season). And the NFL game just crushed the World Series game, 23 million to 17 million total viewers (and scored higher in key demos)--and that's for a series involving a team from a huge market!

Mike Barer said...

When I was in grade school, kids brought transistor radios and sometimes classes were interrupted to watch the World Series. Even non baseball fans would watch and that was growing up in Walla Walla before the Mariners were around.
Now, it feels like Pre season NFL games garner more attention than the World Series.

Michael said...

I think both the Fox guy and Ken have very good points. We do have to judge these matters in context, but we also do see a difference in how people respond to the World Series.

Could the lower number today have to do with these facts: that we have just had major league baseball played in November, and the games often run well past 11 p.m. eastern time?

William said...

The last two comments crystallize my point about nostalgia and false comp to NFL. The MLB regular season is being consumed at unprecedented numbers, but so many still focus on the World Series. I really believe this goes back to the "in my day" argument. In fact, in the link I posted above, the "transistor radio" argument is cited specifically.

As for the comp to the NFL game, ask yourself this: how many people watching had a betting or fantasy interest in the game? Also, if you are a casual fan of both sports, by the time the World Series game had aired, you had a chance to watch hundreds of baseball games, but the opportunity to watch out of home market football games is much more rare. It's a simple issue of supply and demand.

If people would take into consideration the different business models of both sports, and examine the whole picture, and not just national TV ratings, they'd come away with a better appreciation about the current state of baseball.

Anonymous said...

It kills me that a really eSy fix to get batter ratings is to show ALL of the pregame festivities. That is the stuff women like to see, not just flashes of it between innings. I watched every game, even though the Cards were out early. (don't get me started on that either) Joe Buck is at his best when something happens to throw things off kilter. He & McCarver wre great together, but it will take a while for him to find a good partner to bounce off.

Pam, StLouis

Anonymous said...

That's EASY fix.

Pam

R Baugh said...

Yeah, MLB needs to be more like football. So how do we do it? Well First make the World Series a one game event. We need a pre game concert, and a fifth inning show. Also people like violence so change so a hit batter only gets to first if he charges the mound. Oh, lets also make sure that teams hire guys with domestic violence records and create a drug policy that seems like it does something but really allows steroid use.

Baseball isn't going away anytime soon, anyone who was on Twitter during the series knows the game is still popular. But I will take it the way it is over what football has become.

MikeK.Pa. said...

"(For the record, I like Joe Buck.)" Somebody has to, fortunately not me. I'll take Verne Lundquist over Joe Buck in any sport (and I don't know if Verne has ever called an inning of baseball).

I'm not a big A-Rod fan either. His only good playoff run (courtesy of roids) was against my team in the WS. I think he's a chronic misrememberer (to borrow a phrase from Brian Williams). However, I did see him in a rehab stint - sitting five rows from third base - and he was classy with his minor league teammates, the other players and the umps. No big timing at all, so he gets props for that.

"More people watched AfterMASH than THE BIG BANG THEORY." So, you're saying I shouldn't count on AFTER BIG BANG?

VP81955 said...

There's no single position in baseball you can single out and overhype like quarterback (one reason I don't watch football on TV anymore, and why I've come to hate quarterbacks; they're shown much too frequently, even when they're not involved in the play). Pitchers have that kind of influence over a game, but aside from a Greg Maddux in his prime or a Clayton Kershaw today, what pitchers are like that? Additionally, they only pitch every fifth day or so, and rarely go the distance.

Football's dominance is also indicative of the Southernization of American culture. I've worked in the deep South, and down there football -- from pros to the high school level -- is uber alles. No wonder that part of the country is so backward.

Anonymous said...

>more people watched AfterMASH than THE BIG BANG THEORY.

I think you just made the exec's case.

Tom said...

There was a team from the biggest market, and while the series did not go to 7 games, there was a lot of excitement and lead changes. I do think that the best-of-7 format rather than single-game elimination does dissipate some of the drama, and there are also many other TV and non-TV options available. Nevertheless, I think it's clear that baseball doesn't have the appeal it once had.

That doesn't make it worse than football or other things, nor does it make it better (regardless of done baseball fans' preening claims of greater sophistication). It's just that fewer people have a keen interest in it compared to decades ago. And while gambling and Fantasy football may draw some viewers to regular season NFL games, many of those participants can just check live stats online, so I doubt it has a huge impact on ratings.

Cap'n Bob said...

Did someone just say the Buck/McCarver teaming was good? (Shakes head, walks away.)

Diane D. said...

Well, this has been some of the best reading in a long time!

First, VP81955, be careful saying anything critical about the deep south, you can get attacked by people who otherwise seem very reasonable (I do, however, agree with you). When I first moved back to the south in my late 30s, almost the first question I was asked by almost everyone was, "Are you Auburn or Alabama?" I didn't even know what they were talking about. Neither did my 7 year old son, who came home from school and asked me which we were. After a few weeks I asked him if he had decided which he was and he said, "Auburn." Why? "Everybody who was nice to me when we came was Auburn, and everybody who was mean to me was Alabama," he said. As good a reason as any, I guess.

Second, R Baugh, that was hilarious! And so true. My son played baseball from age 5 to 18, and he was so glad it was just the game and those who loved it---no band, no cheer leaders screaming, no Mayor parading around (it was a small town).

Third, William, thank you for that beautifully reasoned analysis. It makes me feel much better about the health of MLB.

And last, the idiosyncrasies of the way the ROYALS play made this one of the most exciting Series in many years. Admittedly, the ROYALS are my team.

Anonymous said...

Whatever the relative merits of the other games- baseball remains the only one where the players interact with the fans during the games, give them souvenirs and autographs. They are less distant from the fans than another sport.

Mighty Dyckerson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
VincentS said...

I don't know if you'll agree with this, Ken, but I think the aura of the World Series greatly suffered with the introduction of inter-league play. Yes, it's popular and it gives hitters in each league a chance to see the other league's pitchers - God forbid the World Series should be a pitching duel! - but part of the drama of the World Series was two champion teams facing each other who never faced each other in the regular season.

VP81955 said...

The NFL has had interconference play since 1970, and the Super Bowl occasionally is a rematch. Doesn't seem to affect interest, though.

Bruce W. said...

Let's be honest. If there was a way to completely eliminate gambling on NFL games -- legal, illegal and fantasy -- the sport would be no more popular than hockey.

YEKIMI said...

Sort of agree with VP81955. I grew up in the south [Florida] in the mid to late 60s before moving north. Yeah, I know some people don't consider Florida as the "South" anymore but back then it was. Didn't have a pro team there at that time and don't remember any college teams being talked about. When I was in school it was baseball and soccer and the soccer was only because of the Cuban kids that has fled the Castro regime. Lots of the pro teams had spring training in that area and as a grade school kid, if you didn't play baseball, you weren't worth talking to. Was signed up for Little League [against my wishes] and I took a fastball to the head at bat and was knocked out. When I came to I threw my glove in my bike basket and peddled home and no amount of threats from my parents could get me to return to the game. Took up soccer instead, which I was much more interested in, and at which I excelled. Went back in the mid/late 90s and football was now all the rage. I can only assume it's from all the Northeners migrating down there. When I moved north, saw that the school booster team had a table set up and I asked if they had a soccer team in the school system. I remember their response to this day: "Soccer? What's THAT?" The big sport was, of course, football and if you didn't genuflect to the coaches or players you stood a good chance of being ostracized till you moved out of town.

mmryan314 said...

Bruce W.- You are right. I`m much more interested in any game that I have money on. I like in and out watching but if I have a stake, I`m tuned in.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't help that the playoffs go on incessantly and that a summer sport decides its champion in November

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, in the past 5 minutes, more people have watched "The Big Bang Theory" on DVD than have watched "AfterMASH" on DVD in the past 10 years. (But, hey, -I'd- buy that set if it ever came out!)

Charles H. Bryan said...

It's interesting -- the major TV sports events (I'm thinking Super Bowl, NCAA Football Playoffs and NCAAA Men's BB Tournament) are those where the sport or the event itself has been marketed so effectively that it almost doesn't matter who's in it.

I like baseball because it's unpredictable (sort of like college sports) -- there's always some weird bounce -- but I listen to it on radio or MLB AtBat than I watch on television. For the World Series, where there may be millions of casual fans, I'd ditch the play-by-play person altogether (which I think Joe Buck essentially does half the time) and bring in two or three color commentators who can articulate the nuances of what's taking place on the field, with camera direction following their commentary. Enough of the stock shots -- I don't need facial close-ups of the players all the damn time.

And, yes, A-Rod was good. I don't know why that surprised me -- he's always been a very effective communicator during his public apologies.

And I'd bring in the fences. Those ERAs need to go back up.

Charles H. Bryan said...

And helmet cams. If we can have 12 cameras aiming in every direction from Dale Earnhart, Jr., we can have one in the front of Miguel Cabrera's batting helmet.

Steven said...

I agree Harold Reynolds can be annoying but he occasionally has good insights. By contrast I thought Rodgriguez had a wooden delivery and stated the obvious far too often, as many new analysts are prone to do. Although to be fair I didn't hear much of him during the World Series. What was I missing?

Instead of dumping Reynolds I would just dump the whole 3 man booth concept for baseball that ESPN and Fox seem to be favoring.

I only need one analyst per game, thanks. No need for dueling " player" vs. "established journalist" opinions, or a pitcher vs. hitter perspective on a 1-2 changeup in 4th inning of a largely meaningless game in the middle of June. It all just promotes too much meaningless chatter that distracts from the game.

Neumms said...

Part of baseball's problem is that there aren't stars anymore. I went to the All-Star Game last year in Minneapolis. The only real star, a name that might be recognized by people who don't watch baseball every day, was Derek Jeter, and they treated him as if he were Babe Ruth, not a guy fortunate he wasn't drafted by the Indians.

Where did the one-game Wild Card playoffs air? How exciting a concept, but it's buried. They should run Division Series games on two networks at the same time, say TBS and TNT as the NBA used to do. Newspaper writers griped, but they're the only ones who can watch all the games, especially in the early afternoon. MLB should also have cut the League Championship Series back to five games when they added the earlier round. That would make the World Series more special and we'd less exhausted by then.

And they still need to reduce the time between pitches. Keep the batter in the box, then we'll hear a little less Harold Reynolds.

Jon B. said...

Changing the presentation of the World Series will not materially move the needle on ratings. Subbing in some new announcers isn't going to make anyone watch who wasn't already going to watch.

It is sad to say but most people who don't have a rooting interest in the outcome are not watching and are unlikely to start doing so ever again.

Diane D. said...

You won't think Baseball has any problems if you go online and watch the celebration in Kansas City! They closed all the schools and most downtown businesses on the day of the parade and official celebration. 800,000 came to downtown (almost twice the population of the city; the metro area is only 2 million), and only 2 arrests---people were just happy.