Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Popularity Contest Part II

We left off last time with proof that, while Major League attendance has not increased drastically since expanding to 30 teams in 1998, attendance has not decreased significantly either. Averaged out, attendance has remained about the same.

Now, we'll take a look at another important figure in gauging popularity; World Series television ratings. Now, I've always had a problem with television ratings because I don't trust them. They are essentially educated guesses, whereas attendance is a concrete number based on ticket sales. But we're going to look at ratings anyway. The table below, courtesy of Baseball-Almanac, provides viewership averages and ratings averages for the World Series dating back to 1973:

Year Network Rating Viewers
1973 NBC 30.7 34750000
1974 NBC 25.6 29080000
1975 NBC 28.7 35960000
1976 NBC 27.5 34720000
1977 ABC 29.8 37150000
1978 NBC 32.8 44278950
1979 ABC 28.5 37960000
1980 NBC 32.8 42300000
1981 ABC 30 41370000
1982 NBC 27.9 38070000
1983 ABC 23.3 29540000
1984 NBC 22.9 28010000
1985 ABC 25.3 34510000
1986 NBC 28.6 36370000
1987 ABC 24 35340000
1988 NBC 23.9 34490000
1989 ABC 16.4 24550000
1990 CBS 20.8 30240000
1991 CBS 24 35680000
1992 CBS 20.2 30010000
1993 CBS 17.3 24700000
1995 ABC/NBC 19.5 28970000
1996 Fox 17.4 22220000
1997 NBC 16.7 24790000
1998 Fox 14.1 20340000
1999 NBC 16 23731000
2000 Fox 12.4 18081000
2001 Fox 15.7 24528000
2002 Fox 11.9 19261000
2003 Fox 12.8 20143000
2004 Fox 15.8 25390000
2005 Fox 11.1 17162000
2006 Fox 10.1 15812000
2007 Fox 10.6 17123000
2008 Fox 8.4 13635000
2009 Fox 11.7 19333333
2010 Fox 8.3 14019250

Because I know tables are no fun, I've created a chart to show the drastic decline in viewers during the World Series.

My first inclination was to blame Fox for the ratings. Since they signed their long term deal, there have only been three times the viewers totaled more than 20,000,000. However, the graph shows the decline actually started after the 1992 season.

Keep in mind, these figures are for the World Series only. Baseball's premiere event. It goes without saying, that an average broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest or Comcast Sportsnet is not going to draw the same viewership the World Series draws.

Below are the three biggest perception issues facing baseball:

No one watches baseball on TV. Setting aside the World Series ratings, people do not want to sit and watch a 3-hour game on a weekday on a channel that, when not showing baseball, shows women's gymnastics.

Baseball is boring. That's the other big problem many people have with the sport. Many times the games are low scoring and you can go multiple innings without any action.

The games don't mean anything. With a 162-game schedule, the games don't matter. A 7:00 game on April 21st doesn't matter to the average fan, because he knows there will be 150 more games to be played.

Perception is reality and it is killing baseball. Sure, Major League Baseball is making money, players are getting paid more than ever, and attendance is holding strong, but go ask any of your football buddies. Go ask them about baseball. Pick up a paper in August (or July this year). NFL is the main topic.

Like a little brother starved for attention, baseball is struggling to keep up. The perception issues can be changed with a little work. But can baseball regain its footing as America's favorite sport?

In the final installment, we will examine potential solutions and how they may improve the game.


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