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Don’t get worked up about the television ratings

Oct 18, 2010, 1:01 PM EDT

old TV

Every year we see it: a regular season NFL game beats the crap out of a baseball playoff game in the ratings. It happened last night with Indianapolis-Washington nearly doubling the numbers of the Giants-Phillies game. It may even happen tonight with a boring Titans-Jags game facing off against the Yankees and Rangers.  There are, and will continue to be, people who read a ton into this, but I think it’s kind of meaningless. Why? Because as far as the television business goes, baseball and football are different beasts.

Football is an exclusively national sport, television wise. Aside from preseason games everything is handled by the big networks. Yes, they provide regional coverage of some games on Sunday afternoons, but the Sunday night and Monday night games — and, for that matter, most of the late Sunday afternoon games — are national things. Baseball, on the other hand, is primarily regional thing until the playoffs start. There are like 90 games a week during the regular season. A handful are national broadcasts. The vast majority are on RSNs or local affiliates of one form of another, broadcasting to a limited area.

When the playoffs start, baseball is basically changing its model, and is going all-national, all the time. Fans of the participating teams are going to follow, of course, but for fans who have grown accustomed to understanding televised baseball as a vehicle through which one roots for the local nine, it’s a tall order to expect them to tune in. If football were broadcast in a pattern like this — an impossibility, I realize because of the limited number of games — you’d see a similar pattern.

While I’m sure Bud Selig would love it if baseball games got football-sized ratings, he and others in charge of the health of the game likely know that’s never going to happen. They know this because  baseball on TV is apples and football on TV is oranges.

  1. BC - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:07 PM

    You’re also not factoring in the reality that about 100 times more people bet on footbal (whether its through a bookie, online, with squares, etc) than bet on baseball. And that baseball playoffs are more watered down – 7 games versus winner-take-all.

  2. Chris Fiorentino - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    When the baseball game it on TBS and the football game is on FOX or CBS or NBC, then you’re right that it’s no big deal. But when both are on over-the-air TV, and the football game(regular season) doubles the baseball game(NLCS playoffs) nationally, it is a problem for baseball…or at least it should be. As many homes have FOX that have NBC, or the # is very close.

    Why did more people watch football? Two big reasons…
    * First, the gamblers are a HUGE part of the viewing audience, and anyone who says different has their head in the sand. And more people bet on football than all other sports COMBINED. Plus, the Sunday night game is where all the loser try to break even and all the winners try to double up.

    * Second, and sorry to say this Craig, but more people like football in this country than like baseball. That’s just the facts. Football wins every single ratings war, every popularity poll and basically everything. Even college football beats the Saturday afternoon baseball games. That’s why baseball should be worried, but they are not…and as long as the networks keep on giving them billions, they won’t be worried.

    But the big game is coming up on Oct 31st. We will see just how big the Saints-Steelers game crushes the World Series…especially if it is Phillies/Yankers. If the ratings are doubled again, baseball will have some serious soul-searching to do.

  3. yankeesfanlen - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:20 PM

    Radio is even worse. Last Friday Tigers fan Rob couldn’t get Yanks-Rangers anywhere. The ESPN feed was pre-empted by a Pistons pre-season game. Detroit isn’t that parochial last I checked.And who can listen to basketball on radio without (or with) Marv Alpert?
    On another side of this story, 26 towns are not participating, and everyone in football (except the Cowboys) still has a chance.

  4. sdelmonte - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    What annoys me is that “The Worldwide Leader,” not having a vested interest in baseball ratings this time of year, has been leading with football news all weekend. The playoffs are third banana behind pro football and college football. And unless someone throws a no hitter tonight, they are bound to lead tomorrow with the MNF game.

    • Old Gator - Oct 18, 2010 at 1:49 PM

      Hey Len, where have you been? All recovered from that, what was it, hip or leg issue you had? I was wondering if maybe you typed with your toes or something, like Daniel Day Lewis….

  5. Joe Tetreault - Oct 18, 2010 at 2:41 PM

    Left unsaid, the News Corp-Cablevision spat caused approximately 3 million potential viewers in NYC and Philly, who have the misfortune to continue to patronize Cablevision for television service, to have their friendly neighborhood Fox affiliate to be blacked out, making it unpossible (even for Ralphie Wiggum) to watch at home.

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