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Is Baseball On A Road To Insignificance.....

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Rock Mamola

Producer/Host on WSCR 670AM The Score.

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Take a second and answer this question to yourself:
 
"How much Major League Baseball do you watch today?"
 
For myself I watch a good 2-3 full games a week not necessarily because I have to but because I am a fan of the sport.  I love my Chicago White Sox but for me the broadcast is a bit stale with Hawk Harrelson and Steve Stone.  I love watching the Cubs simply because of Len Kasper and Bob Brenly but putting it mildly the baseball has not been all that great in 2010.  
 
Taking my personal experiences with the baseball broadcasts I was curious to know exactly how teams' television ratings were doing in this 2010 season.  To my surprise, MLB could be in serious trouble.

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Reading an article from the Sports Business Journal, I found it shocking that the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox average television rating has dropped by an average of 29%.  That 29% is the largest drop of the three markets with two baseball teams in its city limits (LA/NY)

In fact half of MLB teams have seen a drop in TV rating ranging from the Boston Red Sox (35.8% drop) to the Los Angeles Dodgers (17.3% drop).  The article states that overall MLB's national television ratings (FOX/ESPN/ESPN2/TBS) are flat but with not one of networks doing better than a 2.0 average rating.  NBC's America's Got Talent does better numbers than that.
 
To the average fan, this could mean absolutely nothing.  On the grand scale of things however, does the drop in television ratings mean baseball is dying?
 
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Major League Baseball's attendance fell about 6.6% in 2009 and early estimates show that MLB could be in for another dive in people coming through the turnstiles in 2010.  The economy surely has a role to play in this, but then again you have to think that at least some of those fans are choosing to stay at home and watch the games instead.  Apparently that is not the case.
 
So why have people stopped watching baseball?   
 
This year's All Star Game earned the lowest-ever television rating for a MLB all star game with a 7.5 rating which was down 16% from last year's 8.9 rating. 

From 2000-2009 the crown jewel of MLB, the World Series, averaged a 12.05 rating which only pales in comparison to the 25.51 average rating the fall classic received from 1980-1989 (over a 50% drop). 

As a general rule, baseball's ratings are falling yet the sport seems to stand pat and do nothing to address the matter.   
 
There is no bigger issue for Major League Baseball than making the product more attractive for people to come to and watch, but how do you improve the viewing experience of a sport that refuses to adjust to new technologies and market their players like the NBA/NFL/NHL

For the most part, bringing in new fans to the game of baseball is the most difficult task of the four major sports.  The NFL/NBA/NHL are easier to attract the "bandwagon fan" because of the pace of each game and the physical nature of each of those sports.  Baseball is more chess to their checkers in that it requires much more strategy and that pace of the game is much slower and methodical.   
 
Baseball is also the only one of the four major sports without a salary cap which creates competitive imbalance in the sport putting more superstars together on fewer teams. Baseball is also the only sport that doesn't adapt to technology because it could hamper the integrity of the sport.  The human element is something the sport cherishes, but yet when the history of the game is affected by a bad call (i.e. Armando Galaragga), baseball chooses to do nothing about the matter going forward.  
 
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By failing to adapt to new technologies (instant replay) and not marketing the sport to a new generation of fans, baseball is dying a slow death.  The sport itself relies too much on the fans of yesterday and doesn't attempt to attract the fan of today.  The fan of today enjoys a faster pace, high scoring type of game where they have an all access pass to participate in the broadcast.   
 
We have always said that "chicks dig the longball"....maybe that is more true than ever.  This season has seen the year of the pitcher with five legit no hitters and one blown on a missed call (which replay could have fixed, but MLB loves the human element).  Could it be that an increase in 3-2 games over 8-7 ball games is indeed bad for the game of baseball?  Could it be that the lack of power hitters and guys chasing hallowed records of the game hurting the overall product on the field?
 
Say what you want about steroids, but they saved the game.  Baseball enjoyed the steroid era like no one else and cashed in on every long ball and record shattered.  Today baseball seems more concentrated on fixing the problem they allowed to be created rather than move into the next generation of the sport.  Implementing drug tests in the minor leagues seem more important than building a challenge system for replay in the big leagues.  Expanding the All Star Game roster (for a game no one watches anymore) and mandating the DH be used no matter the site of the mid summer classic is more important than starting the World Series a little earlier in the day so baseball can get a much larger national audience.
 
For every step baseball believes they take forward on certain issues the grand problems still exist, yet MLB sits on their hands and does nothing.
 
1. A salary cap to balance competition
2. Make baseball affordable again for families
3. Decreasing Interleague Play and increase divisional play
4. Realignment for more balanced divisions creating better competition
5. MLB Interactive....allowing all players to interact w/fans via social networking/twitter/etc...
6. Market the players of MLB more....not just the Yankees
7. More exposure for NCAA baseball teams (see what NCAA Hoops and Football does for pro product?)
8. Reach out to the 18-34 crowd rather than the 25-54 crowd
9. Get heavily involved with Little League and promote the game to the youth of America. (suburbs and inner city)
 
These are just a few building blocks Bud Selig and MLB could do to promote the game and build the same excitement around the game that is desperately needed.  Until baseball decides to look outside the box and break the mold that has been the same for almost a century, baseball will continue to die a slow death.
 
-RoCk
 
Rock Mamola is the Associate Producer of The Mully And Hanley Morning Show and co-host of The Joe O And Rock Show on WSCR 670AM The Score
 
You can follow The Mully And Hanley Morning Show at Twitter.com/MullyHanley
 
You can follow The Joe O And Rock Show at twitter.com/joeoandrockshow

Table Courtesy of Sports Business Journal

MLB TEAMS' RSN Ratings (ranked by avg. rating)
TeamRSNAvg. rating (change)Avg. no. of HHs (change)
St. Louis CardinalsFS Midwest9.70 (+41.6%)121,197 (+41.6%)
Minnesota TwinsFS North7.85 (+26.4%)135,966 (+26.5%)
Philadelphia PhilliesCSN Philadelphia7.20 (+16.5%)212,774 (+16.7%)
Cincinnati RedsFS Ohio6.52 (+48.9%)59,897 (+49.4%)
Boston Red SoxNESN6.25 (-35.8%)150,636 (-35.8%)
Detroit TigersFS Detroit6.23 (-1.9%)117,761 (-3.8%)
Tampa Bay RaysFS Florida5.52 (+70.9%)99,681 (+69.4%)
Milwaukee BrewersFS Wisconsin5.20 (-26.9%)46,893 (-27.2%)
Colorado RockiesFSN Rocky Mountain4.88 (+55.9%)75,122 (+57.5%)
Seattle MarinersFSN Northwest4.83 (-15.6%)88,582 (-14.9%)
San Diego PadresCox/SD44.79 (+14.6%)51,415 (+15.3%)
New York YankeesYES4.38 (-5.4%)328,217 (-4.6%)
Atlanta Braves*SportSouth3.66 (+16.2%)87,383 (+17.1%)
San Francisco GiantsCSN Bay Area3.48 (+10.1%)87,118 (+11.3%)
Pittsburgh PiratesFSN Pittsburgh3.44 (+5.8%)39,730 (+5.7%)
New York MetsSportsNet New York3.25 (+1.9%)243,540 (+2.7%)
Cleveland IndiansSportsTime Ohio3.13 (-4.9%)47,599 (-5.1%)
Baltimore OriolesMASN/MASN23.06 (+10.5%)33,451 (+9.6%)
Florida MarlinsFS Florida3.05 (-12.1%)46,912 (-12.6%)
Arizona DiamondbacksFS Arizona2.96 (-12.4%)55,468 (-11.6%)
Kansas City RoyalsFS Kansas City2.82 (-22.1%)26,546 (-21.8%)
Chicago CubsCSN Chicago2.71 (-39.1%)94,877 (-39.0%)
Texas RangersFS Southwest2.66 (+1.9%)67,681 (+4.1%)
Houston AstrosFS Houston2.46 (-19.6%)52,237 (-18.9%)
Chicago White SoxCSN Chicago1.85 (-18.9%)64,769 (-18.7%)
Los Angeles DodgersFS Prime Ticket1.63 (-17.3%)92,244 (-17.2%)
Washington NationalsMASN/MASN21.34 (+139.3%)31,290 (+140.7%)
Los Angeles AngelsFS West1.23 (+11.8%)69,608 (+11.9%)
Oakland A'sCSN California1.23 (+46.4%)30,792 (+48.0%)
* Braves broadcasts are split by SportSouth and FS South. The FS South coverage has a 4.09 average rating (up 8.2 percent) with an average of 97,650 households tuning in (up 9 percent).
Notes: Comparable data for the Toronto Blue Jays was unavailable. Ratings listed are for games played through the Sunday prior to the All-Star break compared with the same time period last season.
Source: SportsBusiness Journal analysis of Nielsen Media Research data

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8 Comments

iowagyrl said:

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Good story Rock! I'm one of those people who didn't watch this year's All Star game, for the first time in many years! I guess I'm just losing interest because of the way the MLB and the individual teams are being managed, similar to the direction of the NBA.

Rock Mamola said:

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The direction of MLB is not near the crash course that the NBA is on. The NBA doesn't have enough talent to go around, whereas MLB does.

The All Star Game needs a new wrinkle or baseball should just go back to what it was....a glorified exhibition game that is supposed to be fun.

-RoCk

Dubsdread18 said:

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great post. i'd add four things to your suggestion list.
1. mlb should use instant replay on everything including balls/strikes.
2. shorten the regular season to run from mid-april to labor day weekend.
3. add 2 more teams (pick from orlando, san antonio, las vegas, indianapolis) to get to 32. follow the nfl blueprint. go to 4-team divisions and realign.
4. with 4 divs in each league, playoffs could be exactly like nfl. 4 div winners and 2 wild cards. top 2 div winners get rd 1 byes. 1st 2 rounds of playoff series are best of 5. The league championship and world series stay at best of 7. world series get played 1st week in october.

Rock Mamola said:

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Some great suggestions to improve the game. That's the goal we all want...improve a sport that needs improvement

-RoCk

rdp234 said:

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This is such a crock. MLB is as popular as ever. Ratings are cyclical. Last year the All-Star Game and World Series ratings were way up. Baseball has been on an upward trend for so long that it has to come down at some point. It's the same with attendance numbers. MLB hit an all-time high a few years ago. It had to come down somewhat. The game is doing fine, as well as it ever has. To say it's on a road to "insignificance" is ridiculous. Major League Baseball is as popular as ever. They hit an all-time high in revenue last year. It seems like there are articles like this every year. It's just not true.

Rock Mamola said:

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You can't really say that ratings are cyclical when annually the World Series is being watched on avg by less people each year. Again, it depends on the teams involved....but you would figure the crown jewel of the sport would command a huge audience.....which it is simply not doing.

I'm not saying the game is in trouble....but the trend is down, and anytime a business in trending down means they may need to look at changes.

Popular as ever? That's debatable

Thanks for checking out the post

-RoCk

rdp234 said:

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Are you kidding? The World Series ratings were enormous last year. They beat the NBA Finals easily once again. The World Series is still one of the most watched sporting events in the country. Again, I've seen a lot of articles like this looking to drum up interest in the game. I don't get it. The game is fine. It's not 1952. There are a lot more options now, but the game has endured very well.

Rock Mamola said:

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2009 World Series avg. - 11.7
2009-2010 NBA Finals avg. - 10.6

Hardly a easy win....

It does help that the WS had the NYY involved and the Finals had LAK involved. Both however had record low ratings the year previous

MLB - 8.4
NBA - 8.4

They are more alike than you think.

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