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Baseball is Dying Alert: World Cup Ratings Edition

Jun 24, 2014, 8:23 AM EDT

Screen Shot 2014-06-24 at 7.46.56 AM AP

Geographic areas are measured in Units of Rhode Islands. Sports TV ratings are measured in Units of World Series.

Note: in these comparisons, both Rhode Island and the World Series are used because they are putatively “big” things — a whole state and the crowning jewel of the National Pastime — but they are really intended to end up looking small compared to what is being measured. That’s the joke!

The latest example of this comes from people talking about the ratings of Sunday’s USA-Portugal World Cup match. A lot of people watched. How many?

While not near the totals scored by the NFL, even for many regular-season games, the U.S. audience for the World Cup game on Sunday easily eclipsed the NBA Finals this year, which averaged 15.5 million viewers, as well as the 2013 World Series, which averaged 14.9 million viewers. The NHL playoffs are not even remotely as popular as the World Cup, having averaged only 5 million viewers this season.

Go do a search for “World Cup World Series” or something like it on Twitter and see how many people are just giddy about that.

And, to the extent they are excited about soccer, they should be giddy. Those are great ratings. They’re likely significantly inflated over what typical league play soccer, be it MLS or Premier or whatever, can obtain due to the World Cup being a one-game, every four years event, but they’re still great. Soccer truly has arrived in the United States and it’s cool to see that happening. Let a hundred flowers blossom, and all.

To the extent they are citing this as a means of slamming baseball, however, they really do need to chill out, of course. This is nothing new if you’re a regular HBT reader, but we’re back in apples-oranges territory again when ratings like these are discussed. Let’s cover the bases quickly:

  • The majority of people in this country who call themselves soccer fans are USA fans and their team was in the game in question.
  • Baseball fans divide their loyalties among 30 teams and thus 93% of baseball fans’ teams are not in the World Series each year.
  • The USA-Portugal game was one game — an event — at an ideal time on a Sunday evening with no other major sporting event competing with it.
  • The World Series is seven games, played in the middle of football season and often going head-to-head with college and pro games.
  • For both sports and entertainment, our TV watching habits are not geared toward series and long-builds anymore. They’re geared toward big events which serve as shared experiences across multiple platforms at a single time. Think the Super Bowl. Think the Olympics. Think episodes of whatever Sunday night prestige TV show all the cool kids are raving about at a given time.

So great on soccer. I in no way wish to rain on its parade here, because it really is cool that we, as a nation, are increasingly stopping to watch this stuff. It makes me feel like we’re more in tune with the world in some weird way and in an increasingly fragmented time, any shared experience is uplifting, even if it ends with our hearts being ripped out in stoppage time.

But pooh on anyone who uses this as a means of making baseball look insignificant this way. And for that matter, pooh on all of those people who do it to Rhode Island all the time. Rhode Island is a totally fine state and it deserves better treatment than you’re giving it, buddy.

  1. musketmaniac - Jun 24, 2014 at 3:53 PM

    Horrible sample. Rhode island. When it comes to the U.S. Soccer is much stronger in the New England states.

  2. extavernmouse - Jun 24, 2014 at 4:32 PM

    The interest in the World Cup is typical of us Americans, following the hype and the advertising. Compare the number of people who watch speed skating during the Olympics to those who watch it any other time. It’s a big event, just about every big advertiser is pushing it hard, and after the stupid thing is over we won’t be able to get World Cup combo meals at McDonald’s anymore. Watch how many people watch the final if the US isn’t in it. I personally can hardly wait for it to end.

  3. jayquintana - Jun 24, 2014 at 6:04 PM

    The real comparison should be MLS ratings compared to MLB ratings. That said, while I’m not a soccer fan, I have to admit that play uninterrupted by commercials is a glorious thing. If Americans invented soccer, the sport would’ve died in its cradle. There would be 4 quarters, 2 team and 2 TV timeouts each quarter, etc.

  4. tmc602014 - Jun 24, 2014 at 6:05 PM

    Didn’t anybody see Battlestar Galactica? Pyramid is the most popular sport in the cosmos!

  5. beanocook - Jun 27, 2014 at 9:52 PM

    And of course World Cup soccer did a 0.0 today while mlb had 15 games with strong local rating. Soccer can’t entertain each day, neither can football.

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