Friday, October 25, 2013

People are not watching the World Series

Great essay by Keith Olbermann on the ratings decline of the World Series. 


Kevin said...

Bud Selig has done a damn fine job in ruining the sport. Interleague games throughout the season diminish the impact of the two rival leagues meeting in October. Plus his making the All Star Game decide home field advantage was also a dumb move.

iconoclast59 said...

Kevin, I blame Bud Selig for the George W. Bush presidency, too. Reportedly, Dubya wanted to be baseball commissioner and Selig blocked it because he wanted the job for himself. Had he not done that, Dubya wouldn't have run for President, thus sparing the world a lot of grief.

I wouldn't call out Boston Mayor Menino's slip of the tongue in that clip. He's probably still hurting over the Bruins' loss of the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks (MY team, whoo-hoo!), so it's understandable that he'd blurt out "World Series Cup."

D. McEwan said...

Normally I just skip over your posts on baseball, but for this, I clicked on and listened, delighted, indeed, overjoyed, to learn I am NOT the only person in America who wouldn't watch a World Series Game without being paid a substantial amount to do so.

To me, it's always just been the reason why TV schedules were fucked up and my favorite shows pre-empted in October. (I still think of that year a baseball players strike caused there to be no World Series as "The Bestest October That Ever Was.") These days, with baseball mostly limited to sports channels that I never, for any reason, turn on, it's less of a problem, though it is still the reason that the Simpson's Halloween episode had to run on the first weekend on October instead of where it belongs: four weekends later. (Any earlier and they might as well just call it the Simpson's Labor Day Special.)

Olbermann referred to when the World Series was "Important." It is never important. I can not be important. It's just some guys playing baseball. One team or another wins. In so far as I root at all, I root for whomever wins the first game, as the best World Serieses are the ones over in 4. Why not make it just one game? At least the Superbowl is only one day, not half a month.

Olbermann omits my own theory: perhaps America is outgrowing baseball. Why not? I did at puberty. PRior to puberty, I went to Dodger games, and even played one season of little league. Onc ePuberty hit, baeball ceased to be of even remote interest. The last game I attended was in 1966 at Angel Stadium. Wlat Disney threw out the first ball. I was there to see Walt Disney. I went home halfway through the second inning. (For the record, I've never watched a Superbowl either.)

For those who want it, it's still here. Enjoy it. But I can not pretend not to be somewhat glad to learn my side is growing.

Now the Tony Awards, those are "important."

Anonymous said...

1971, I was in elementary listening on a radio I smuggled to class. Moneyball has become Prissyball. Denny Mclain or Mickey Lolich would throw more complete games in one season than the entire Tigers pitching staff will do in a decade and the games didn't last nearly as long.

Eric J said...

Baseball has a face made for radio. It's dull to watch. On radio, the announcer can provide the excitement that is sorely missing from the real thing. It almost sounds like fun on radio.

DodgerGirl said...

I love baseball, but it needs to be wrapped up by the first week in October. That's the real problem. Viewer fatigue.

Unknown said...

Yes, baseball's ratings is declining, but they're not crying over spilled milk. Olbermann is right that football is a national sport and easy to watch on TV, while baseball is regional and at times, hard to watch.

However, the league is still making money over MLB At-Bat and local and national TV deals. If MLB wants to get really rich, they should leave Fox and have either Turner or ESPN buy World Series rights. Look at the NCAA. They make money from ESPN subscribers and receive a good chunk of it.

If I fault Bud Selig, he is slow to the gun on most issues, but not here. The problem is there's no casual enhancement to baseball, like fantasy or gambling, which football capitalizes. There are hardcore fans, but not enough casual fans.

I think baseball is still popular, but it has become regionalized and there's a lot of choices now. We will likely discuss again in 2015 when the new commissioner comes up.

ScottyB said...

I'm no big fan of baseball or Olbermann, but this is pretty dead-on.

BUT -- I think it brings up a wider thought for contemplation: Would there be *any* acceptable way (specially for the World Series) to make it all glitzy-glam, um bullshit eye candy that the NFL and the NBA has become -- which seems to be what sells these days?

That seems almost sacrilegious to even think about when it comes to baseball. Ya, it's like baseball is stuck being '50s/'60s TV wrestling in a WWF/UFC world.

Not sure there really is an answer here. But the alternative seems even more garish.

ScottyB said...

And hey Ken: Is it my imagination (I grew up during the '60s/'70s), but back then, wasn't the whole World Series wrapped up at the end of September, first week in October the latest?

That might be part of the thing there. You can drag stuff out for only so long people people start yawning already.

Anonymous said...

Has Keith gotten angry at his new employers yet?

Norah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike Schryver said...

I disagree with one of Keith's points - the lack of an attempt by MLB to create national teams. I think baseball has done everything it could over the last 10 or 15 years to make the Yankees, Red Sox and maybe the Braves national teams. They even went so far as to have a Yankee, Mariano Rivera, given an award in Boston the other night. In Boston!!!

Yes, yes, Rivera's accepted as a great player and reportedly a good guy, but how could he be a good guy and play for the Yankees? It's impossible. It's like the argument in CLERKS about the ordinary workers on the Death Star, who got killed, having known what they signed up for. (Disclaimer: I am not advocating that any Yankees be killed.)

Where was I? Anyway, I don't think the lack of nationally-followed baseball teams is the result of a failure to try by MLB, as Olbermann suggested.

Anonymous said...

I might have missed it but let's give Bowie Kuhn credit for starting the slide.
I loved getting home after school in time to watch the last innings of the games.
The games could start at 6:00 E.S.T. Maybe then kids could enjoy the W.S.

The Mutt said...

I'm a life long cardinal fan and I'm not watching the series on TV. I'm listening on the radio. Radio is better.

Kevin said...

I believe three things have happened, all diminishing the World Series at the same time.

1 - I live in the Seattle area. There are 160ish games broadcast on Root Sports. This represents a daily, six-month long soap opera. My soap opera ended four weeks ago, with a 71-91 record. When you televise ever single game, you get my attention, but that comes at a price - that price being that I don't care as much about the soap opera other teams participate in.

2 - Red Sox / Yankees. No, they aren't on every day, but it sure feels that way. MLB pre-scheduled games on ESPN through late July - six teams appeared multiple times ... Angels, Braves, Cardinals, Rangers, Tigers, Yankees.

3 - There are now +/- 20-25 playoff games that happen BEFORE the World Series begins. Back in the early 80s, there were two five-game ALCS/NLCS matchups to get through. In other words, today, you have 2x - 2.5x as many playoff games before the World Series than you had 30 years ago.

In other words, the local market is saturated with your local team, every game on TV. Your national market is saturated with Yankees / Red Sox / and 3-6 other teams. And the playoffs are saturated with too many games before the World Series.

To me, those things impact a die-hard local baseball fan.

Passive fans don't have a chance - who cares about the 3 hour, 32 minute mark of game two of a series when the passive fan can watch the dramatic moments of game six? To the passive fan, the drama in a baseball game at the 3 hour, 32 minute mark does not compare to the drama of Tennessee upsetting Georgia.

Just a few thoughts.

ODJennings said...

I like baseball, but for me there's more excitement watching any random Little League game than there is watching a World Series.

I'll take the uncoordinated fat kid who closes his eyes, miraculously connects with the ball, and hits it into center field any day over the mechanized perfection of Major League Baseball.

If there isn't a Little League game handy, I'll take high school, then college, then the minor leagues over MLB. In fact, baseball is a game where the amount of entertainment and excitement is completely inverse to the talent of the players.

Mike said...

Instead of watching 5 minutes, just read these 5 seconds.

1-0 playoff game started at 8:00 and lasted 4 hours.

Breadbaker said...

When Ken broadcasts baseball, he assumes that a listener knows the basic rules and strategy of the game and is always look for the drama and the action that is in fact going down on the field, rather than some kind of set expectation of what is going to occur. An example of the opposte of this, which he did not broadcast, is the game between the Red Sox and the Mariners that was on national television as the first MLB encounter between Ichiro Suzuki and Daisuke Matsuzaka which turned out in fact to the be game where the world became aware that Felix Hernandez had arrived as a first-rate starting pitcher. A good broadcaster like Ken will throw away any expectations or "script" and let the game dictate what to announce.

Joe Buck and Tim McCarver might have continued telling us that the game was really about Ichiro vs. Dice-K even as Felix threw his one-hitter.

The point is that there is no broadcast home for the World Series for the hardcore baseball fan, who is turned off from it by the manner of broadcast, while the attempts Fox makes to show us celebrities in the audience and have mics in the dugout causes exactly no one to tune in. Listen to a Super Bowl broadcast while the game is actually going on, and it sounds like any other game. The analysts are talking about hitch routes even though the vast majority of the audience has no idea what they are talking about. But they tune in.

Storm said...

The problem with the World Series is that it's got no heart and it's got no hustle.

Yes, that is my standard go-to response for anything negative someone says regarding baseball, but in this case, it's actually true; the last time I remember anybody being excited about it was when the Red Sox finally won. Why IS it happening so late? I thought those guys were The Boys of Summer or some junk?

Cheers, thanks a lot,


Barry Traylor said...

Not being a fan of the game I sort of missed the fact that the World Series was being played. Which teams are in the series anyway?

Anonymous said...

It's just not a popular sport anymore. I think it could recapture some popularity, as parents are becoming more aware of the potential brain damage football can cause. My son won't play football unless they can find a way to reduce impact, make a better helmet, not sure. But the documentary Head Games blew my mind about football. I've never been a fan of baseball, but I would say there is nothing like going to a game, except for the alcohol drinking fans, I can't stand them. And it's just not fun to watch from home. For some reason though, I find baseball movies fascinating. The Natural, Field of Dreams, to a much lesser extent, Moneyball.

Michael said...

Now, beyond our friend D. McEwan demonstrating with his distaste for baseball that he clearly is a communist, a spy, a terrorist, or worse ....

More seriously, if a game starts at close to 8 p.m. eastern, it might not be such a big problem if the games didn't last until the morning news shows came on. I love baseball, and The Vin has said that when he was a kid, a short game meant less time and he wanted more. I see the point. But it isn't that there is more action. The games take too long. There's too much posturing. On radio, that can work--an announcer can spin stories, as The Vin does. On TV, we end up listening to the blathering of Buck and McCarver.

Breadbaker, Ken worked with Jon Miller, who told the story of a game he did where the starting pitcher--I am sure it was Mark "The Bird" Fidrych--was a character. Miller prepared all of this information about him and was determined to use it. He was then #2 in Boston to Ken Coleman, who did nothing but describe exactly what the pitcher was doing that made him seem eccentric. And Miller said he learned a valuable lesson about not letting the information you have control what you broadcast. Dick Enberg, no slouch himself, once said of The Vin (who learned this from Red Barber) that he might have a great piece of information, but he wouldn't use it or he'd use it late in the game when it was germane to the situation. THAT is how to broadcast baseball, or anything else.

Bob B. said...

You've missed the major reason why the NFL excels over the MLB. Gambling. When is the last time you listened to a sports show on national radio and they talked about "the line" on a baseball game? If there were a way to completely ban gambling, both legal and illegal, from NFL you would see their fan base drop by 90%. Hell, two thirds of the time they're just standing around in a circle talking to each other. That's what they do in my wife's knitting group.

Steven said...

I've never understood the "move games to the afternoons so kids can watch" angle. If parents really want to foster a love of baseball, and sports in general in their kids, why can't they allow them to stay up later to watch a game?

Kids don't necessarily have to watch every pitch but parents should at least let them watch enough of the game to have an idea where he game is going, then send them off to bed.

Growing up I would do this with baseball. If I didn't get to see the whole game I'd just fall asleep with the game on the radio, which highlights another big problem: the national ESPN Radio announcers ESPN has been using to cover the MLB playoffs for years are far more exciting to listen to then the people at Fox and TBS.

When you compare Joe Buck's play by play of recent dramatic playoff moments to those of national TV guys like Vin Scully, Jack Buck and Sean McDonough in the '80s and 90's, there's no contest. Fox may have paid MLB billions over the next several years to broadcast national games, but they've added a ton of unnecessary graphical bells and whistles to distract viewers, and on top of that, as I've mentioned before, they have Joe Buck and his dull, monotone delivery promoting the action.

Conversely, The NHL on NBC employs Mike Emrick to call national games, a hall of fame announcer who broadcasts every minute of a game with a sense of urgency and passion. You can tell he loves hockey and wants non hockey fans to appreciate it as well. Joe Buck just does baseball to cash a check.

Some of my favorite baseball playoff memories come from hearing, not seeing dramatic moments unfold. ESPN Radio's stable of announcers such as Jon Miller, Dan Shulman, Jon Sciambi, and Charley Steiner all have done a fantastic job over the years of communicating the excitement of the moment to listeners.

Some people prefer neutral sounding national play by play announcers who don't show a lot of passion and energy in their game calls, but I think it really ads something to the overall experience. How can they be blamed for showing favoritism toward one team when they're getting excited over the moment in a game as opposed to the good fortune of a particular team?

Aside from that, ESPN Radio's baseball analysts are more prepared and knowledgeable than their national counterparts.

Also when you take into account the playoffs in their respective sports, the NHL and NBA seasons are just as long as MLB's, yet you don't hear near the amount of fervor over these seasons being "too long." Why is that? It's a sports season, not a single event like the Super Bowl or the NCAA basketball tournament.

I do agree with some people that baseball has become a regionalized sports but as other people have pointed out here, there are national brand teams in baseball like the Red Sox, Yankees, Cardinals, and my favorite team the Chicago Cubs.

Personally I think the national media has contributed to the decline in baseball's popularity by constantly bringing up this very issue: (The season is too long, games are too long, no national teams etc.) The national sports media has become so infatuated with perpetuating its belief that the NFL is the ideal sports league that all others should be compared to that those who aren't passionate about another sport have no choice but to believe it and end up watching the NFL.

Really, the media favors the NFL only because it's the easiest sport to make national talking points out of, generating content that makes their jobs easier. And let's not forget that football's conduciveness to gambling and being a fantasy sport plays a large role in its popularity as well.

How does the national media expect the casual sports fan to care about baseball when the media is constantly bringing up all its negatives while simultaneously telling people that the NFL is the only league that matters?

VincentS said...

He and Kevin are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO right!

ODJennings said...

Anonymous Anonymous said... "I think it could recapture some popularity, as parents are becoming more aware of the potential brain damage football can cause. My son won't play football unless they can find a way to reduce impact, make a better helmet, not sure. But the documentary Head Games blew my mind about football."

I was at a Big 10 game a few years ago, and they had a tribute to all their former players who were invited to walk around the field to the cheers of the crowd.

It was horrific. The number of guys limping, using canes, walkers, even wheelchairs was simply astounding, and I'm talking about guys in their 40s and 50's. That was the physical damage--you can only imagine the head injuries that weren't so obvious.

Jeffro said...

Sorry I'm late to the discussion but let's make it short.

The reason I'm not watching the World Series:

#1) Listening to Buck and McCarver make me sick even when MY team is involved (which is not often). If MY team ain't in it, I ain't watching them. (I know many will say just mute the TV and listen to a more palatable audio broadcast over the Internet but I've never been able to get it synched to my satisfaction.)

#2) The regular season is too long and the post season is too short. Shorten the regular season a month, add more entry series (more teams get in), including throwing out the 1 game wild card format, and I might just get interested in rooting for some teams (mostly the underdogs)—and they don't have to necessarily be MY team for me to pull for them (to address Olbermann's observation of no "national teams").

Anonymous said...

After all the apparent bi-polar behavior at MSNBC and elsewhere, I just can't take seriously (or lightheartedly) anything Olberman says.

It's like if your dad got drunk, trashed the house, was dragged away screaming by the police, returns home from the drunk tank 3 days later, sits down on the torn up living room couch and says, "hey... so, how 'bout them Dodgers?"

VP81955 said...

I love baseball, but I'm not watching this year because when the playoff pairings were set up, this was the matchup I dreaded, Red Sox vs. Cardinals. What is there to root for? Each team has won two World Series over the past decade, and these may be the two most self-righteous fan bases in MLB. (Would Bosox fans please shut up about the "evil empire" in the Bronx, when that's precisely what they've become since 2004? They should have followed the lead of the "other" Sox, who after 2005 didn't act as they invented the sport. And Cards fans smugly proclaim themselves "the best fans in baseball"; How would they have endured a 43-119 loss season, as Detroiters did a decade ago?)

I'm a Nationals fan (hoping I'll like the apparent hiring of Matt Williams as manager), and given the expect-the-worst baseball history in this town, we have a natural inclination to root for underdogs when we're not involved. You could root for both the Twins and Braves in the marvelous 1991 Series, the best of my lifetime (better than 2001 or 1975, even if Ken Burns and his PBS poet friends wouldn't dare admit it), since both were underdogs. This year, neither team is, so I'm sitting things out and waiting for 2014.

Michael said...

Steven, I think you make a fine point about the announcing, and until 1976, at least local announcers participated in the network telecasts, doing the play-by-play themselves or with, starting in 1966, an NBC announcer or two. Maybe their presence would help. But I would distinguish between an announcer with passion, such as The Vin or Jon Miller, and a screaming nut like Gus Johnson.

Steven said...

Yeah Gus Johnson is a little too over the top for me too Michael LOL

Adam said...

My grandfather loved baseball, and I treasure the memories of going to the ballpark with him. That said, the game has always been too slowly paced for me. I've tried to get into baseball--my wife is a fan--but still find myself looking at my watch way too much.

XJill said...

The ratings are up this year...just sayin'.

The World Series continued to dominate on Fox Thursday night, though early returns underestimate Game 2's strength. With time zone adjustments, the Boston-St. Louis showdown averaged a 3.6 rating among adults 18-49 and 13.4 million viewers.

With Wednesday's game rising to a 4.2 rating with adults 18-49 and 14.4 million viewers in the finals, the series is thus far pacing 13 percent ahead of last years' in viewers.

Breadbaker said...

@Michael: Thanks for the Jon Miller history. I remember when Miller worked with Coleman. Ken (Levine) later of course worked with Dave Niehaus, who had the best baseball instincts of any announcer I've ever heard. The Mariners could be up five in the late innings but if Dave's voice dropped in a particular way you would realize the lead was about to be lost. He didn't have to say anything, you just heard it in his voice.

R Baugh said...

Bob B is right, the disparity between baseball and football is largely because of gambling. That is why people will watch national teams in football. Fantasy sports are often not free and for the hardcore it is about winning prize money.

The Super Bowl is about gambling and more, it is a one time event that more than half don't care about the football game. Some watch the commercials only. It is about parties and getting together. Baseball can't do that. If the decline of baseball means less people watch as long as it doesn't go away I say let it continue. By the way people attended baseball games at over 200 professional ballparks and many college teams are good draws. Baseball is not in any danger and most of the reasons presented are not the cause.

VP81955 said...

So the ratings are up? It helps to have two "right" teams in the eyes of casual fans. It's not that they're pre-expansion teams, either; last year, we had two of the "original 16" (it's as if I'm talking hockey) in the Giants and Tigers, teams with great traditions and histories meeting for the first time, and hardly anyone watched. If this year's matchup was White Sox-Braves, it also would suffer (even with a big market such as Chicago, since the Chisox don't have the Cubs' chicness).

Baseball has to find a way to extend its appeal and stop relying on certain teams as a crutch. (A Yankees at Red Sox game was ESPN's Sunday night game three times this past season -- that's absurd! To hell with both of them.)

Anonymous said...

Baseball is still a family game. Look at the burgeoning attendance in the minor leagues, where people with lower incomes (the elderly) or families (Dads, Moms, kids) can attend and afford it.

All the large revenue streams Bud Selig has tapped have made Major League baseball less accessible to families, unless you want to sit very far from the action.

The skill level of basbeall is unique, as can be seen from the fact that the Greatest basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan, couldn't hit more than .200 on a consistent basis. It requires training, much of it in the minor leagues. It doesn't have the instant payoff that a young 19-year old phneom can enjoy by being drafted for 80 million dollars in the NBA.

But when you have a 7th and deciding game in baseball,the slowness and deliberateness of it, heightens the drama of every pitch and out.

Arguing about the relevance of baseball is useless. It would be like arguing about chess, ballet or soccer. Most NFL fans hate everyone of those activities, but those who enjoy it, understand the subtleties and complexities that no one else sees.

Bud Selig, frankly, is a scoundrel who has forced many municipalities to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars on new stadiums, or be threatened with the loss of their franchise. He and the sport deserve their fate.

Chester said...

It's interesting to note that Steve Blass was making roughly $70K in 1967--a nice salary, yes, but nothing compared to the astronomical athletes are paid today.

In '67, people could identify much more with the guys who played the game than they can now. Contracts have gotten so out of hand that fans have become disinterested in watching a bunch of over-paid rich guys competing in what, at one time, was an everyman's sport.

Everyman and professional baseball are no longer compatible

VP81955 said...

In 1967, my father was called for nis annual two weeks of duty in the New York National Guard at Camp Drum, near Watertown. One of those there with him was John Cumberland, a reliever with the Yankees whom we had seen pitch in Syracuse. Ballplayers had odd jobs in the off-season or, if they were stars, invested in the community; for many years, Phil Rizzuto and Yogi Berra operated a bowling alley on Route 3 in Clifton, N.J.

My family lives in the Washington area now, and I doubt even the lowest-paid reserve on the Nationals' roster spends his off-season in D.C., much less has business interests there.

alkali said...

@Steven: I've never understood the "move games to the afternoons so kids can watch" angle. If parents really want to foster a love of baseball, and sports in general in their kids, why can't they allow them to stay up later to watch a game?

We live in Boston, and we went to bed at 11:00 last night, when there were still two innings left to play. I can let my kids stay up until 9:30 or 10 to watch a game; I can't let them stay up until 1 am.

Anonymous said...

Keith's just wrong about this.

The statistics he cites are missing one important piece of context: sports betting and fantasy sports.

People watch the Super Bowl, in part, because it's a one-off party where mostly everyone is either in a pool or has a bet on it. And they created a subculture of fans who watch for the commercials.

Quick quiz: how much does a 30-second commercial costs for tonight's World Series game?
No one knows nor cares. But ask the same question about Super Bowl ads and suddenly most people turn into Mad Men.

I like Keith, but he's seriously cherry picking his stats and arguments.

People aren't watching this year because neither team is that likeable, both LA and NY didn't make it and the games are on late. The Super Bowl starts around 6 and is usually over by 10. The World Series starts game starts around 8.30 and they're only in the fourth or fifth inning by 10. Way to cater to a younger fan base or anyone who has to get up to go to work the next morning.

In summation, football is more popular for a variety of reasons: betting, fantasy football, the kickoff times, the length of the game and the one-off nature of the playoffs. There are still national teams, but the idea that the Packers have home-grown fans in NY is laughable. They're mostly transplants from Wisconsin. But there are tons of home-grown Yankees fans all throughout the country, particularly in NY, Florida and California.

And I say that as someone who vastly prefers baseball to football.

Phantom Dreamer said...

Baseball has many things wrong with it, terrible uniforms, indistinguishable mallparks, lack of a pitch clock, but keep in mind that in '12, MLB generated $7.7B in revenue last year. The NFL, with all the hype, $9.5B, the NBA, with all the players known by their first names, generated just over half what MLB did, $4.0B. Perspective.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I'm not sure if the people on Mad Men really have any concept of math either.

For that matter, losing Lucky Strike shouldn't have been such a terrible death blow, given all the other business they mentioned. They already had 8 million to start, which is 11 later on. Then they add so many more accounts before they hear about Lucky Strike, that they are still a 20 million company at least.

Jeff P said...

The "kids need to watch it in the afternoon for it to grow" argument might have been valid in the 80s and 90s...but not any more.
Kids can and will stay up late matter what.
Either they're fans or not......It's us OLD farts who fall asleep before the game ends!!!!!!

chuckcd said...

I love baseball. I watch every World Series.

Loosehead said...

Do I remember Darth Vader's voice saying "Baseball IS America" (Field of Dreams, yeah, now I remember)? I hope thats not true these days, what with all the drug-taking and cheating, and all the other things that come with big money.
Or maybe its like with cricket - a game that is waaay more fun to play than to watch.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've always watched the WS when it was possible. I know baseball has fallen out of favor in some quarters and I understand. In my case, I'm sick of juiced players, ridiculous salaries, lack of team cohesion, the extended post season, Asinine celebrations after a routine play, and the NL's refusal to adopt the DH. Now, when they measure viewership do they take into account the number of fans packed into sports bars? One TV hookup can account for dozens or even hundreds of viewers. More than those 19" TV sets could accomodate in Joe's bar in 1971.

CrankyYankee said...

I guess those were 'stunt glasses' Keith tossed, eh?