The game has many positive indicators that attest to the game’s health. There are plenty of sports that wish they were dying like baseball.
However, there seems to be little question that baseball is underachieving when it comes to the postseason. As I have written many times, World Series ratings declines of 20 to 30 percent aren’t a function of a changing media landscape. This is a relatively recent trend in the last 10 years. In 2005, there were plenty of viewing options when the White Sox four-game sweep of Houston averaged an 11.1 rating.
Back then, that rating was an all-time low for the Series. Now Fox and MLB would do cartwheels if they pulled that kind of number.
That’s why it was so terrific for MLB to have such a memorable Game 7 Wednesday. It was full of everything that makes the game great: Super defense, intrigue on pitching options and a heroic performance for the ages by Madison Bumgartner.
Guess what? People tuned in. Fox pulled a 15.2 overnight rating. According to Sports Media Watch, it is the fourth highest for a World Series game since 2004.
The rating shows there is an audience out there for viewers who will watch good, compelling baseball. The challenge is for MLB to figure out a way to deliver more of it in the postseason and World Series.
Not pound a dead horse–OK, I will–but the easiest fix is doing something about pace of play. My colleague Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune sent me a Twitter message yesterday about Pittsburgh’s famous 10-9 victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series:
“The Bill Maz’ finish? 19 runs, 24H, 8 pitchers. Time of Game: 2:36.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s 3-2 game with 14 hits took 3:10 with only two pitching changes occurring within an inning. It took two hours to play five innings before Bumgartner and the Kansas City bullpen accelerated the pace by retiring virtually everyone down the stretch.
The other game times for the Series: 3:32, 3:25, 3:15, 4:00, 3:09, 3:21.
You can’t blame it all on more commercials. At most, the extra ads add about 15 minutes to the game time.
However, it wouldn’t hurt if Fox and MLB went back to a two-minute break in between innings, instead of nearly three, in the World Series. Perhaps they could get premium rates from sponsors who want to be hailed as being part of the effort to quicken the game. Think Masters and its limited commercials.
Whatever happens, it seems certain that MLB will implement some measures to improve the pace.
It may take time, but a quicker, easier-to-watch game will lure back viewers who have gone elsewhere, and ideally younger fans who can’t sit through 3:30 games.
Yes, Wednesday was a good night for baseball. But it needs more than one night to reach its potential.
Your turn, new commissioner Rob Manfred. Let’s see what you can do.