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.