My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana is on the New York Times realizing people don’t watch as much baseball as they did in the past.
This tweet from Sports Media Watch is yet another example of the negative narrative during the World Series.
It also is getting to point of excess. The relentless attacks (present company included) are starting to feel like Jimmy Johnson and Miami running up the score in Gerry Faust’s last game at Notre Dame.
Enough already, right?
Yet there was a significant low point for baseball on Friday. The New York Times ran a front page story with the headline, “Series is on, and everybody’s watching…Football.” And then there was this subhead: “World Series 2014: Baseball is no longer the center of attention in a new landscape.”
Stop the presses! Get me rewrite!
OK, so maybe the Times A section is a bit late to the party. What’s coming next on the Times front: A story on some neat things being invented by Apple? After all, the Times’ sports business and media guru Richard Sandomir has been reporting on this trend for years in sports.
However, the placement (above the fold, no less) and tone of the Times story can’t be dismissed. It isn’t just football over baseball. Consider this passage from writers Jonathan Mahler and Bill Carter, two of the Times’ heavyweights:
“Perhaps the most compelling statement about baseball’s relative standing among American sports fans is this: Last summer’s World Cup match between the United States and Portugal drew 25 million viewers, roughly double that of the World Series opener.”
Baseball is behind soccer, too? That line probably hurt Bud Selig more than getting hit by a Yordano Ventura fastball.
While virtually everything has changed in the new media landscape, The New York Times still is considered the paper of record in many important places, namely for high-level decision-makers in Manhattan who decide where they are going to spend their corporate dollars. You can be sure nobody at MLB was poo-pooing the Times Friday. The last thing baseball wanted to see was a front-page story in the Times pointing out that fewer viewers are tuning into the World Series.
The news didn’t get much better Monday with reports that San Francisco’s important victory over Kansas City Sunday produced only an 8.2 overnight rating, the lowest ever for a Game 5. NBC Sports’ PR department piled on with a tweet that noted its 11.4 rating for the New Orleans-Green Bay game was 39 percent higher in the head-to-head competition.
Then again, nobody should have been surprised since the Times told us everyone is watching football.
Given: The World Series’ appeal is a long way from the days of Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle in the ’60s when baseball ruled over football, not to mention the early days of Derek Jeter when the games still pulled ratings in the high teens, even low 20s during the ’90s.
Now here’s the question: Can baseball change the narrative?
Having its biggest stars in the World Series definitely would help. Although Kansas City is a good story, there’s no George Brett on these Royals. Meanwhile, the Giants might be the dullest dynasty in the history of sports.
Baseball would have been better served if young phenoms like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper had made the Series this year. Throw in some Clayton Kershaw, this generation’s Koufax, and you’d get higher ratings for these games. Unfortunately for the Dodgers and MLB, Kershaw rolled two unlucky 7s in the first round.
At some point, MLB needs to get lucky with some long Series runs by compelling superstars, much like Mantle and the Yankees, Reggie Jackson with the A’s and Yankees, and Jeter and the Yankees.
MLB can’t dictate whether their stars play late into October, but there is something they can control. Veteran readers of this column know exactly where this is going.
One, two, three, everyone: PACE OF PLAY!
Not to beat this dead horse again, but Game 4 on Saturday went exactly four hours. Even Madison Bumgartner’s brilliant pitching couldn’t prevent the Giants’ 5-0 win in Game 5 from coming in at 3:09. It was tedious, given that the Royals barely reached base.
Clearly, the slow play is turning off younger fans. Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily has the most damning stat for baseball: The average age for World Series viewers has gone from 48.4 in 2004 to 54.2 in 2013. It is incumbent on baseball to reverse that trend.
Baseball needs to figure out a way to bring in these World Series games at 2:30-2:45. And they need to move at a brisk pace. Stop the pitcher-catcher conferences on the mound, which merely serve as a prompt for the viewer to switch to “The Good Wife” on CBS.
Would a quicker game mean higher ratings for the World Series? Perhaps. It would be great to find out. At least the games would be more watchable.
At this point, Selig might have a better chance of hitting a Ventura fastball than baseball has reversing the negative PR. Faster games, though, would be a start. They might give the Times reason to do a follow-up next year.