All-time low rating: Why World Series continues to decline; trails NBA Finals, NCAA tourney, BCS

It doesn’t add up.

Bud Selig will tell anyone who listens that Major League Baseball is more popular than ever. The game continues to set attendance records.

However, if that’s the case, why are TV ratings sinking at the same pace as Detroit’s bats during the World Series?

The latest Giants World Series victory averaged an all-time low of 12.7 million viewers per game. The numbers are striking.

From Sports Media Watch:

The World Series has now set or tied a record-low rating eight times since the 1994-95 players’ strike (1998, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012). In addition, this is the seventh time in the past eight election years (midterm or presidential) that the World Series has set a record-low.

The 2012 World Series was the third in five years to average a previously unheard-of single-digit rating. Over the past five seasons, 20 of 27 World Series telecasts have drawn a single-digit rating — compared to four such games previously.

Forget about losing to football. From Sports Media Watch:

Compared to other sports, the World Series trailed the five-game Bowl Championship Series on ESPN (8.4, 14.1M), the three-game NCAA Tournament Final Four (10.1, 17.1M*) and the five-game Heat/Thunder NBA Finals on ABC (10.1, 16.9M).

This marks the fourth time in five years that the NBA Finals has averaged a higher rating and more viewers than the World Series, and the fifth time in seven years the NBA has averaged better numbers among adults 18-49. Prior to 2008, the NBA Finals had only topped the World Series three times, all in years when Michael Jordan‘s Bulls won the championship (1993, 1996 and 1998).

Once upon a time, the 1977 World Series averaged 44 million viewers per game. Now that’s not a fair comparison in the modern era of TV ratings, but even by recent measures, the World Series has declined. There wasn’t one series in the ’90s that averaged less than 20 million viewers per game. As late as 2004, the series pulled in 25 million viewers per game.

So what gives Mr. Commissioner? Popularity should be measured by attendance and ratings. If I’m MLB and its TV partners, there has to be concern why fans aren’t watching the biggest games on their big screens.

As it relates to the World Series, here are some of my theories:

Sweep madness: Baseball has run into an extraordinary string of bad luck. The Giants sweep was the fourth in a World Series since 2004. Only two series in the last nine have gone beyond five games and only one to the full seven.

Nothing kills ratings more than a sweep. People start to check out after 2-0. Even worse, there’s no carryover effect from one year to the next. With the exception of St. Louis-Texas in 2011, the World Series hasn’t delivered much in the way of lasting memories–except for fans of the winning team.

Football: Back in 1977, football was limited to the colleges on Saturday afternoon and the pros on Sunday afternoon and Monday night. And baseball usually scheduled on an off-day to avoid a conflict with Monday Night Football.

Now the World Series bumps up against football on virtually every night. Saturday’s Game 3 faced a stiff test in Notre Dame-Oklahoma, and Game 4 went up against Peyton Manning and Drew Brees on Sunday Night Football. Baseball definitely took a hit.

I remember when the NFL didn’t schedule a Sunday night game to avoid a conflict with the World Series. Not anymore. Football rules.

Local: I wonder if baseball has become more provincial. If the home team isn’t involved, perhaps we don’t care anymore. I definitely didn’t hear much talk about the World Series on my two local sports talk radio stations in Chicago. Can you say, Da Bears!

Star power: Or lack thereof. Stars draw viewers, and this year’s World Series didn’t have them. Sure, Buster Posey and Miguel Cabrera are terrific players, but they don’t move the meter like a Derek Jeter or ARod, or dare I say it, Barry Bonds. Now the Giants winning two of three series with Bonds in the lineuep? I guarantee that would have generated some ratings.

Kids out: As I wrote Saturday, lamenting how kids get shut out because of the late start of games, I wonder if we’ve lost a generation of baseball fans–at least as far as the World Series is concerned. All I can say is that when I came home Saturday night, my sports-obsessed teenage boys were flipping between ND-Oklahoma and Michigan-Nebraska games. When I asked them what was going on in Game 3, they had no idea.

They didn’t grow up with the World Series. They never got to see the end of games when they were younger. As a result, the World Series isn’t important to them.

MLB should reach out to my boys. They could provide some good feedback on the all-important youth demo.

And finally: At least the short series prevented a Game 7 on Nov. 1. There’s something not right about baseball in November.

Anything else?: I’m open to suggestions.










20 thoughts on “All-time low rating: Why World Series continues to decline; trails NBA Finals, NCAA tourney, BCS

  1. No, I think you nailed all the right reasons. There’s so many baseball games on during the reg. season, that post-season baseball just seems like another game to the average fan. I’ll watch, but I’m guessing many fans tune out once their team is out. Did you hear anyone on local Chi. sports radio even talking about the games besides giving you the results?

  2. I still think the main reason is intrigue of teams. People will watch the games with yankees, red sox, dodgers, phillies 2009 had great ratings

  3. They need to end Baseball sooner. First of all, baseball is a Spring/Summer sport, don’t allow it to run over into Fall. Secondly, baseball season is way too long. The Nationals, A’s, Braves and Orioles all had great seasons but it seems as if people couldn’t wait for some to lose it and not make it. And the bad calls sans replay. The infield ground rule? Those bad calls just add to the aura of dislike. How to fix baseball? Have a 120 game season and end it in Late July or early August. This will allow people not to be complacent and keep baseball from competing with the big boys. (NFL and College football.)

  4. I think you’re right on every count. But I would add one other thing: Baseball is just SLOW in a way no other team sport is. The ball is always moving in basketball and soccer, for example. Where everyone stands around a great deal of the time in baseball.

    In a short-attention span world, it’s easy to change the channel between innings – heck, between pitches – and quickly get engrossed in something else, something with real action.

  5. great write up. i will say the late starts kill it for all sports. my son is 10 he rarely gets to see the end of a sporting event because they don’t start until after 7:30/central. he ends up watching it on sports center or youtube the next morning. maybe i should raise my kids on the west coast, or hawaii.

  6. I think you nailed it: Too many sweeps, not enough drama, more TV viewing options, head-to-head against Football, not enough star power, and games are on too late.

    I was 15 in 1991, and I missed the ending of Game 7 of probably one of the best World Series ever because I had to go to school the next day. Start the games at 7:00pm!

  7. Baseball has refused to change and will continue to decline because of it. Fans don’t accept change at first, but then realize it can be great. NBA took away hand checking, and helped offensive players. NFL has made passing much easier with rule changes. I was mad initially, but now I don’t care at all. It’s no secret, casual sports fans (including me) want to see teams SCORE POINTS no matter the sport. Baseball needs to do whatever it takes to get teams to score more runs. Make every new ballpark built have closer outfield walls, make umpires have smaller strike zones, bring back steroids (jk, but seriously), shorten the lengths between bases, only 2 outfielders, ANYTHING to get more runs scored consistently. Yes, fans will be upset at first, but the NFL and NBA have shown us that despite the initial opposition, more scoring is better for the long term.

  8. You forget that the NBA just simply has a more interesting/exciting product. Baseball needs to take a page from NBA. Lengthen your post season. NBA soars in April May June. For two months they are front and center with playoffs. Baseball two weeks and post season is over. I’m 36, I could care less about baseball regular season. I honestly didn’t watch 3 innings of baseball all year. Absolutely dreadfull / no urgency what so ever. They need urgency in baseball!!! Almost every year I do tune into baseball post season Forget 162 games that baseballs biggest problem. Take month or more off regular season add month or more to post season. That would get me to tune in. I for one am not watching meaninless baseball games. Can’t do it….

  9. Lack of star power you say? The 2012 World Series featured 3 Cy Young Winners, an AL MVP, last years NL Rookie of the Year, the first Triple Crown Winner in 45 years and a prince worth $214 million.

    Ugh, I hate to admit it because I love baseball as both a former player and a fan but they need to reduce the amount of games played.

    This is an always on world we live in and the huge amounts of content available online has had significant implications for the modern day consumers attention span.

  10. Ed, I have talked about this with my friends for several years. A lot of what people watch, has to do with the ability to relate and identify with the athletes. In my opinion, the Latin demographic is becoming more and more dominant in baseball. The best players in our supposed “American Past-Time”, seem to be from Latin America. Therefore, it is hard for american youth and americans in general, to idolize, follow and care about athletes they perceive to have nothing in common with. I think this is a major factor in the declining interest from american viewers. Coupled this with the MLB taking the air out of the ball (ie PED crackdown), pitching has become more dominant and let’s face it…. Chicks dig the long ball. Without the “homerun”, baseball is a snoozefest to anyone who isn’t a fan of the sacrifice bunt.
    Mark Herrmann

  11. I think you might have something with the local aspect. If overall attendance is up but TV is down, that might show a difference in local fan bases of teams versus a universal fan base of the sport.

  12. I think everything has to be put in the right context.

    These days I’m reading a lot of articles where the writer affirms not to understand the reasons behind the low-rated World Series, maybe alluding to a supposed irreversible downtrend in Baseball’s popularity. I think the reasons are CLEAR and OBVIOUS instead, and there are several.

    FIRST, this World Series rated poorly because there was little-to-no
    competition on the field. It doesn’t matter that Games 2 & 3 were
    2-run contests. The lead was NEVER in doubt. Simply, San Francisco was way up superior. Only in Game 4 there has been some lead-changes. And, in fact, numbers for Game 4 were decent. Before Sunday’s Game, the Giants had NEVER ceased the lead for about 55 innings. This Fall Classic has been BORING, and who says this is a person who watches every WS game, every Postseason Game, no matter what. Game 4 was the first interesting game since the LDS round, with the exception of the ALCS Game 1.
    And this WS’ sweep can’t be compared to any other recent sweep because when there are team from NY, Boston or Chicago in the mix you can be sure that you’ll get, at least, robust TV ratings.
    Finally, do you really believe there are so many people willing to watch lopsided games, just for sake of watching how SF players are much better than Detroit ones? I don’t think so.

    SECOND, despite all of the above, this year’s World Series still managed to beat Football two times: the first on Thursday, the NFL on NFL Network (yes, of course Fox is in about 55-60% more homes than NFL Net, but Game 2 of the WS drew about 135% more viewers than Thursday Night Football); the second on Saturday, two different College Football matches. And on Sunday, Game 4 has outdueled the TV behemoth that is Sunday Night Football, losing by a small gap.
    My question for everyone here is: how many TV programs in today’s TV landscape are capable to compete with the NFL and Football in general? I guess the answer is: there’s NONE BUT MLB.

    THIRD, the competition is harder and harder each and every year. And every year there seems to be more and more Football on TV, causing thousand, maybe millions of sports fans lost in the choice between alternative options, fragmenting the audience more and more. Don’t forget: Baseball Postseason has competition from the NFL and College Football; the NBA, for example, from NHL. It’s not the same…

    FOURTH, despite all of the above, and despite a lopsided four-game
    Series, the Fall Classic still managed to be a top-ten primetime show
    (9th this year) and a top-five in the younger demos. Just like in the past, when, according to some detractors, Baseball had much bigger TV numbers and was a much more successful product than today. “Baseball is dying” is a common refrain. I don’t think comparing 2012 World Series TV ratings with what they were in the 70s or in the 80s is a correct approach. I think it’s correct to verify where Baseball TV ratings stand today compared to today’s TV programming. And the answer is: IN THE TOP-TEN, JUST LIKE 40 YEARS AGO.

    FIFTH, are we sure TV ratings are a complete way to measure popularity in the world-wide-web era? For example, is considered a very good tool for watching live games, and maybe the best of its kind. How many people watch it? I think the answer could very well be surprising.
    I’d like to know how many people actually watched the games on TV (total viewers, not average), summed up with radio listeners (everyone knows Baseball is very very strong on radio) and live web streamers, and compare those datas to the same ones from other sporting events. Unfortunately I suppose it’s not that simple to put together all of those numbers.

    SIXTH, the matchup. Baseball has lacked the presence of its most popular clubs on its biggest stage for many years now. Having no Yankees, no Red Sox, no Cubs and no Dodgers doesn’t allow Baseball to have the exposure it could have. The NBA has had the Lakers, the Yankees of Basketball, in the mix almost every year recently. And the presence of its biggest stars, very well-known athletes like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, on Basketball’s biggest stage, the NBA Finals, has propelled the latter momentarily ahead of World Series. I say “momentarily” because, I have no doubt, with some luck, getting a Yankees-Cubs or Yankees-Dodgers World Series, or an all-tradition Red Sox-Cubs, Baseball would show it can still draw big numbers.

  13. Agree w Ace on the slowness of the game. I wish MLB did an experiment and tape delayed games. Edit out all the spitting, scratching and time between pitches. The game would take an hour and would be riveting.

  14. Even if baseball’s capstone event is getting low ratings, the lifeblood of teams, regional sports networks, are doing just fine.

  15. The more playoffs rounds MLB adds, the more the World Series is dilluded. Before the Wildcard era, you had 2 rounds of playoffs and you didn’t need to follow a zillion games. Now there are wildcard games, division series games, league championship series games and THEN the World Series. I believe the only fans that are following all those series are fans that teams are still playing, so when the World Series comes you lose that mass audience. So Selig & Owners will get more in $$$ because more playoffs games are being played, but they have sacrificed the casual fan who used to tune into the World Series because it was as big as the Superbowl.

  16. Baseball sucks and indeed is dying. At least to the casual or non-fan. No excitement or bandwagon to jump in. No media coverage. No star to follow. I watched the only bas JK all games I ever watched during the 196 World Series. I was living in NJ .Baseball fever was high. The following season, there was a strike? I lost interest. I became a Giants ,NFL, fan. I jumped on that bandwagon and I added the Celtics, Notre Dame, Seton Hall Pirates. Complete. I rather watched golf than baseball. More exciting than baseball.

  17. The reason why the NFL is king is mainly because it has the shortest season of the four major leagues. Each team only plays once a week, max! This increases interest because every game is crucial. The low number of games has contributed to the rising participation of Fantasy Football and office pick ’em pools. This adds to the reason why more women and younger demographics are starting to watch the game.

    Every year I talk to more and more people who get into the NFL because of fantasy and office pools. Think about it, office pools is a big reason why the NCAA tournament is so popular. The universities involved don’t affect the ratings.

    In many opinion’s baseball is “boring”. These are games that take hours to play with plenty of intermission. If a game goes into extra innings, it actually feels like a chore to have to sit through the entire game. No so in OT NFL, NHL or NBA. Pitchers (understandably so) take their sweet time to throw a pitch. This can be frustrating for a casual fan. Hence the drop in ratings. Baseball is more of a game of suspense, whereas the NFL is an adrenaline rush. A no hitter can be thrilling, but it is a different rush versus watching a 4Q Hail Mary Pass or a running back cutting through the middle.

    In the NFL athletes don’t just flock to a few major cities like in the NBA or MLB. A draft and hiring of a new head coach can turn one of the worst NFL teams into one of the best the following year. You don’t really see this in other sports. In baseball and basketball, the rich teams buy all of the best players from the poor teams. Very rarely do we see this in the NFL modern era.

    That brings me to another reason. The teams involved in the post season don’t necessarily affect the ratings. No other league has the even level playing field as the NFL (maybe the NHL). Small market teams like Green Bay or the Panthers can realistically compete with Miami or NY.

    Lastly the athleticism demonstrated in the NFL versus the MLB is why people prefer football over baseball. It’s probably why no one really watches college baseball, but people casually watch college basketball and football. The athleticism of running backs, corner backs, strong safeties and wide receivers is unmatched in baseball. I would go so far to say that baseball players are the most out of shape athletes in the four major leagues.

    I don’t think that the ethnicity of players is why ratings are dropping. People generally watch sports for the performance and not to root for the race of the athlete. For example Manny Pacquiao is popular amongst non Asians. People in the NFL cheer for their team, not the athletes. A successful QB will be loved by his fans regardless of whether he’s white, black, mixed, latino, polynesian, etc. I would say the same applies to baseball where just last year Mariano Rivera was well received in every baseball stadium.

    So to all of the people saying that Latinos are the reason why the World Series ratings are so poor: “Don’t hate the player hate the game”. That game being BASEBALL.

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