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Why baseball ratings are low

Jul 2, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT

old TV

Steve Lepore of SBNation has a smart take on why ratings for nationally-televised MLB games are low and continue to trend downward. Unlike every other take you see on this, however, it is not attributed to people hating baseball or baseball not being as cool and awesome as football.

Rather, it’s a story those of you who have been reading HBT for a while know already: it’s a story about fragmentation and localization. Whereas, years ago, baseball fans could only see a relatively low number of local games now they can see all of them if they want to, making a “Game of the Week” less necessary than it once was. At the same time, as fans become more immersed in their own team they become less willing to watch other teams, exacerbating the trend away from nationally televised games. And once their team is eliminated? Pfft, forget it.

It’s also a story about the dynamic of baseball not being terribly well-suited to casual drop-in fans who want to see one big game because, with few exceptions, baseball doesn’t really ever have “one big game.” This, I will admit, is an indirect result of the rise of the NFL. With only 16 games and so many winner-take-all contests, the idea of the event telecast — of structuring your Sunday around one game — is much stronger than it used to be when the NFL was less popular and there were more regional broadcasts.

The real health of baseball on television is a look at aggregate ratings across all regional broadcasts. I’ve not seen these numbers but I would suspect that they show baseball to be a healthy TV sport overall, even if it’s in the dumps, ratings-wise, on the national level.

Can anything be done about the national problems, though? Lepore has one rather radical suggestion which you may hate. Click through and read to find out. But man, if that’s the choice we have, I’ll gladly accept the lower ratings.

  1. chunkala - Jul 2, 2013 at 4:11 PM

    The writer had me at smaller regular season but lost me at increasing playoff teams. The worst idea would be to emulate the NBA and NHL. Neither regular reason means anything and the NHL just got a ratings jump due to a shorter regular season. Ratings will dip again by 2015 unless they approve the rules changes that will increase scoring.
    And of course the author is a Mets fan, probably the least knowledgeable fan base around.

  2. gibbyfan - Jul 2, 2013 at 5:06 PM

    I think part of the problem is that the level of action in baseball is less well suited to TV than some other sports. Even as a long time avid fan, I have trouble getting through the conbination of inaction and seemigly enduring and painfully repetitive commercial breaks. Seems like its more about players going through endless rituals than action of interest. HOF pitcher BobGibson used to ask why hitters could not simply dispense with the rituals, get in the box and stay there……..he walked that talk as a pitcher his games were notoriousl shorter as he was in the habit of getting the ball and promptly delivering the next pitch………..I think if players could spped eliminate the obvious tedium together with a few rules changes (how about 3 fould balls on strike threee and your out) viewship might increase–I know I woul dwatch more.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 2, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      “how about 3 foul balls on strike three and your out.”

      With all due respect to a fellow Cardinals fan…HORRIBLE suggestion. Absolutely HORRIBLE!
      A multiple pitch duel between the pitcher and a batter are wonderful. I love them. One of my favorite things. But I also like Pitchers duels as well. 1 – 0…2-1..that sort of thing.

      When a batter keeps fouling off the pitchers best stuff he should absolutely be rewarded… NOT penalized. And typically…his reward is reaching base on a base hit and/or ball four.
      Him reaching base is a direct result of his tenacity in the box. Same way for the pitcher. His reward is the K or out on the ball finally being put in play. Terrible suggestion.
      Thumbs down for you Bob. Sorry.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 2, 2013 at 5:26 PM

      Further (sorry Bob) but you got me going…I am going to leave you with one thought.
      Joey Votto…in the box…with two strikes. It’s often a thing of beauty.

      • gibbyfan - Jul 2, 2013 at 6:00 PM

        Well, I know I am in the minority on this, but to my broader point thre has to be a way to speed up the game. There is something about fast paced action that rivets the viewer. Did you ever have a chance to watch Gibson pitch–to me that was a thing of beauty…Again, I know I am in the minority but one mans excitement is another tedium I guess………..my thinking is that yes some crdit to the batter shoud be given for at least getting a piece of the ball —-but there should be some end to it. When a batter fouls a pitch he is for the most part failing in an attempt to make good contact –so at some point it should end……….

    • rarson - Jul 8, 2013 at 2:18 AM

      In my experience, the only people I’ve ever heard complaining about nothing happening in baseball games are “fans” who don’t understand the game well enough to realize that something IS happening.

      I feel like the pacing of baseball, for the most part, is fine. It’s fairly consistent and while the commercial breaks might be frequent, they’re short. Part of the enjoyment of watching baseball comes from the anticipation of each pitch, especially as counts change. I feel like rushing the at-bats would actually make the sport less enjoyable to watch.

  3. Jeff - Jul 2, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    Baseball is not a TV sport. It’s a live or radio sport. Plus where I am, all we get regionally are Reds game, and I can’t stand the Reds.

    • stlouis1baseball - Jul 2, 2013 at 5:19 PM

      Were you at Jeff?

    • pjmarn6 - Jul 2, 2013 at 8:22 PM

      HAVE YOU TRIED TO LISTEN TO BASEBALL ON RADIO? There is non stop commercials. You can’t intelligently follow a game on radio.
      99% of the fans still don’t get it. Baseball players are overpaid, under achievers, and spoiled. The teams get all these billions of dollars to pay these ridiculous salaries by advertisements on radio and expensive television deals. Then they sell expensive advertisements and charge a fortune for seats, food, etc at the ball parks. I stopped watching or listening to the games a long time ago. I check the gameviews on NBCNEWS sports. This is another case of big business ruining a product by charging too much for the item. Is there room in the U.S. for a competing baseball league that takes into consideration free tv, moderate salaries, faster action and more fan participation and interest? I really enjoy the baseball games I can see in the parks in my city and the enthusiasm that the players have. Best of all it is free.

  4. oruacat2 - Jul 2, 2013 at 6:50 PM

    Not everyone thinks the MLB consists of only the Yankees and Red Sox.

  5. dirtydrew - Jul 2, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    Baseball has lost its “juice”.

  6. crashkobra - Jul 2, 2013 at 8:51 PM

    I think a big reason, at least for me is most of the games are on cable (unlike the NFL). With the NFL everyone can watch most games without a restriction. Baseball on the other hand, almost all of the games are on cable

  7. hitdog042 - Jul 3, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    Or be like me. Enjoy MLB and your team and don’t care what the guy next door is watching. The issue with national games is explained and dead on. On July 6 or whatever there isn’t a must win game everyone has to watch. MLB would serve the fans better to stop blacking out fox Saturday games and let us watch the game we want on our MLB package we paid for. I don’t care about the Indians vs the Tigers before the all star break even hits. Ill care in September if its a tight race. In the meantime let me watch my Red Sox.

  8. rarson - Jul 8, 2013 at 2:22 AM

    How about this: maybe people don’t like national broadcasts because the national announcing crews suck? I know I much prefer my local guys, and not just for the bias. Most of the time, Fox’s announcers don’t even talk about the game they’re announcing.

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