Have You Been Watching the World Series? Or at Least Seen a Game?
The answer for most Americans is no. Since Bud Selig became commisioner in 1992 baseball has transformed from Americas past time, when players played "for the love of the game," to an industrial giant generating over 7 billion dollars in revenue. Now when the World Series rolls around, so do the tales of how everything used to stop for baseball. You hear how the sport has killed itself with games that start when most kids are going to bed. The sport long ago sold its afternoon soul to prime time.
This will probably be the lowest-rated World Series since the invention of the vacuum tube. All of which supposedly confirms the following:
The World Series needs big-market teams
The NFL is king.
Modern Family is more entertaining than Alexi Ogando.
The sky is falling on baseball.
So why isn’t Bud Selig looking up in a panic? Because he’s seen this storm before and knows it’s a lot of hot air. TV ratings have stunk for years, especially if you’re still stuck in 1971. That’s the frame of reference for most doomsayers, who annually see the overnight Nielsen ratings and think baseball is doubling over in pain.
Game 1 drew 14.2 million viewers, down two percent from last year, which ended up the lowest-rated World Series ever. Nobody was surprised, since NLCS ratings were down 43 percent from last year and ALCS ratings were off 20 percent.
This is supposedly what baseball gets for not giving the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Phillies automatic byes into the championship rounds. The teams that actually got there tend to get a little defensive.
Fans are certainly showing their passion at the ballpark, if not at home. “We don’t play for the ratings,” St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Edwin Jackson said. “We play for the rings.”
More people would watch if A-Rod was going for a ring, but not that many. The doomsayers would still say ratings indicate deeper problems. They point to how more than 30 million people watched the World Series four decades ago. Now, even though America has 100 million more people and about a billion more TV sets, baseball can’t scrounge half as many viewers. What they completely ignore is context.
The 1971 World Series was the eighth-highest rated show that year. You know what the eighth-rated show was in 2010? The World Series. Yep, that ratings clunker between the Giants and Rangers. Madison Avenue wasn’t too discouraged over last year. Fox said it sold out its World Series advertising faster than ever this year. You’d have thought it was the Super Bowl, which is the only show immune to the forces of the 700-channel universe. And the Super Bowl doesn’t count because the NFL is America’s Pastime.
The 17-to-49 demographic is down in the World Series TV ratings, but regular-season attendance has held steady. This season’s total was 73,425,568. That was the best since 2007, when the economy started to tank. It was also 44 million more fans than showed up in 1971, back when baseball could still claim to be the country’s pastime.
I don’t know what the sport’s total revenue was that year, but it’s safe to say it didn’t approach $7 billion. That was last year’s haul. It was almost $6 billion more than baseball generated in 1992. That’s the year Selig became commissioner. He’s endured a lot of well-earned criticism over the years. Now he’s answering the annual questions about the decline of the World Series.
You’ll understand if he doesn’t seem all that panicked. TV ratings will never be what they were for the World Series. But baseball will be around long after Modern Family has gone out of style.