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Fox sports honcho: baseball is a regional game

Sep 15, 2011, 9:13 AM EDT

old TV

Every time someone talks smack about baseball by bringing up the relatively low ratings for national games of the week, the All-Star Game or the playoffs, I go off on some rant about how that person is ignorant of how baseball works on television.  About how baseball is a local game and how you can’t simply look at the ratings for one game and make anything approaching an informed judgment on the health of it as a televised entity.

When I say that, the response is usually “get used to baseball being a second-tier sport!”  Bah.  And do you know why I say “bah?”  Because I’m not the only one ranting like that.  Recently the Hollywood Reporter interviewed David Hill, the head of Fox Sports, and he said pretty much the same thing I say:

THR: Fox pays $416 million a year for rights to Major League Baseball, including weekly regular-season games, the All-Star Game and the World Series. Baseball ratings are down; what’s the reason?

Hill: There’s been the rise of the regionalization of the sport, and the decision to play interleague games each year has taken away the luster of the All-Star Game. And if you look at the truly national teams, you quickly start to run out after the Phillies, the Red Sox, the Yankees and, to a certain extent, the Rangers, and you pray the Cubs will show some life. So the ratings are dependent on who we get into the pennant race. Are baseball ratings the same as they were 15 years ago? No. But [the World Series] is still a huge event and is going to dominate the night it’s on. So in terms of importance to the network, for prestige and relevance, it’s important and will remain that way.

The next question was whether Fox loses money on baseball. Hill’s answer: nope.  They have up years and down years, but the suggestion that baseball is some tremendous loss-leader Fox uses to promote whatever half-baked show it’s launching in November is simply not true.

Know what I’d like to see?  Overall baseball ratings for all teams on a given non-national night.  Specifically, how many people across the country on any random Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night are tuned in to baseball, no matter what network it’s on or what teams playing.  No, I still don’t think that matches a football Sunday, but I bet if we saw those numbers people would say something very different about the popularity and health of the game.

Not that such numbers would help any one network seeking a national broadcasting contract as things are currently constructed.  But if a network got baseball rights and figured out a way to leverage the increasingly regional nature of baseball fandom via new or radical programming packages, they could probably do pretty well whether the Yankees were playing or not.

  1. presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:39 AM

    I wish that during the playoffs Fox and TBS would use broadcasters from the teams involved, which is how I hear they used to do the World Series once upon a time, so that we could get a better informed broadcast. The announcers they use are competent, I suppose, but they just can’t know the teams the way the broadcasters who have been with them for 162 games can.

    • Ace - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:49 AM

      I think “competent” might be the most wildly effusive praise Buck and McCarver have received in years.

    • skipperxc - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:54 AM

      I don’t care what announcers they use so long as it’s NOT Buck and McCarver. That right there would go a long way towards making me enjoy national broadcasts again.

    • pbannard - Sep 15, 2011 at 10:16 AM

      I actually watched a soccer game once that had one announcer for each of the teams working together – I think it might be fun to have a baseball broadcast like that. I usually hate it when announcers are homers, but if we had competing homers in the booth, almost talking over each other, I think it’d be entertaining, at least a few times a year.

    • natstowngreg - Sep 15, 2011 at 12:57 PM

      That’s correct, decades ago, the World Series teams’ play-by-play guys also worked the Series. So one was able to hear announcers like Vin Scully (Dodgers), Ernie Harwell (Tigers), Jack Buck (Cardinals), Chuck Thompson (Orioles) and others. I’d love to see them go back to that system.

  2. yankeesfanlen - Sep 15, 2011 at 9:56 AM

    Baseball was given up for dead by major TV fifteen years ago. But then a heartbeat was detected on the autopsy table by some interns named Regional Sorts Networks. Next thing you know, baseball was on Park Place and Boardwalk. Even with cherry-picking the “best” games the locked up profits from day-to-day go to the RSNs.
    And in a certain big city on radio a 35-year dominant all-news station has gone to #2 in the market because of carry-over from a certain teams broadcasts.
    Networks put all their money on NFL to win instead of going for the Exacta and keeping Baseball as well.

    • ftbramwell - Sep 15, 2011 at 12:10 PM

      Fifteen years ago (1996), baseball was still recovering from its self-inflicted wounds.

  3. presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 10:06 AM

    But aren’t we fans better off this way, Len?

    • yankeesfanlen - Sep 15, 2011 at 10:14 AM

      Of course we are!
      1. Local announcers (like them or not)
      2, Better revenue stream for the team year round
      3. Ancilliary events covered more thoroughly
      4. In some cases, blackouts avoided
      5. Over-the-air coverage mandated weekly
      My principle point was that the Networks mis-handled the situation, and to a degree now have to over-pay and be disruptive to get any return

      • jimbo1949 - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:30 AM

        6 months a year, for a dollar a day, I have a choice of up to 16 games per day to watch from the best seat in the house. A decade ago this was impossible. Thankfully, other than Buck and McCarver, the networks haven’t screwed it up.

  4. nyyfaninbama - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    I became a Yankee fan in the early to mid 70′s, before cable, internet and Bud Selig’s parity rules. Back then there were 3 or 4 games a week televised on the big 3 networks and they showed the games that would get them the best ratings – usually Yankee games – love them or hate them, people watched, particularly during the Billy Martin/Bronx Zoo era. I loved baseball and this was the team I saw the most. Then cable came along and more games were regionally broadcast causing the networks to cut back. ESPN started broadcasting a couple of games a week and they too picked the game that would get them the best rating. Then Bud Selig came along and decided that every team should be nationally broadcast the same number of times. The problem with that is watching one bad team playing another bad team is not going to draw in the viewers, that causes ad revenues to drop and networks to lose interest. Combine that with being able to get regional broadcasts of any team over the internet and terrible national announcers and of course you are going to see a decline in national ratings.

    • presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:10 AM

      Wait, you mean the Cubs-Mets Sunday night game didn’t break the ratings record last weekend, ‘bama?

    • sportsdrenched.com - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:27 AM

      “Then Bud Selig came along and decided that every team should be nationally broadcast the same number of times.”

      Huh?

  5. drunkenhooliganism - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:05 AM

    Craig – it must feel pretty good to have the guy that agrees with you about this also being the guy that continues to employ Tim McCarver.

  6. tjwilliams - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:13 AM

    Okay, so I just did some quick back-of-the-napkin math and came up with 1.65 billion viewers for NFL (live and TV) and 1.01 billion viewers for MLB (live and TV). Here’s how I got there.

    The NFL numbers were fairly simple. An average of 17.9 million people watched each NFL game last year (not including playoffs) and there are roughly 91 games broadcast each year (18 MNF, 17 CBS, 17 Fox, 9 Doubleheader, 17 NBC, 8 NFL Network, plus a smattering of Saturday and Thanksgiving games). That totals about 1.63 billion viewers. Add in the roughly 17.2 million people who annually attend in person and you get a total of roughly 1.65 billion people.

    MLB is a little tougher. The regional broadcasts in 2010 varied between 210,000 average viewers (Phillies) and 14,000 average viewers (Nationals). I estimated a mean of 100,000 viewers for each team which, when figured for 30 teams and 150 games equals 450 million viewers. 2011 attendance figures project that annual MLB attendance will be 74.2 million. Finally, the national broadcasts seem to attract anywhere between 2 and 5 million viewers depending on day, time, and teams. I figured an average of 3.5 million viewers per game with approximately 140 nationally televised games each year totaled 490 million. All totaled, roughly 1.01 billion people viewed MLB games.

    Obviously, the NFL gets more eyeballs. But it’s not leaps and bounds above MLB.

    • sportsdrenched.com - Sep 15, 2011 at 11:31 AM

      That kind of jives with the estimations that the NFL had 9.2 Billion in revenue in 2010, and MLB had 7.2 Billion.

      We can all agree that NFL is King in America. But clearly MLB is holding it’s own and is no where near the death bed a lot of people think it is.

  7. bowling255 - Sep 15, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    I think one main reason the NFL gets higher TV ratings is they only play 16 games a year while MLB plays 162 so if you miss a game it does not matter as much. If MLB played only 16 games a year you would see much higher ratings and the ratings would be lower for the NFL if they played 162 games.

    • presidentmiraflores - Sep 15, 2011 at 3:24 PM

      The other effect of 162-game NFL seasons is that the average pro football career would last 2 weeks, leading to anyone with a modicum of talent being able to make a roster (which is already the case for the Raiders and the receiving corps of the Rams).

      Not knocking you, bowling, just pointing out another likely side effect.

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