This is one of the last weeks when baseball will have a clear field without any other major competition from other sports. This is not to say Indy, F1, NASCAR, MSL, WNBA, Golf, Tennis and other sports on television are not major nor that they are important. But this is one of the last weekends before football begins to take over the minds of those writing about sports and how football draws so many viewers.
Which got one to thinking about baseball and exactly how is the state-of-the-diamond today. Once known at ‘America’s favorite sport’, there has been much written and talked about the overtaking of football as the top sport in America. Is baseball the cricket of American sports?
Jonathan Mahler in the New York Times last year asked the question, “Is the Game Over?”. He stated that the best indicator of baseball’s decreasing significance is baseball’s national TV ratings compared to those of pro football.
While sitting at Heathrow in the British Air lounge, a family traveling together with a couple of teen age boys, were gathered around one of the television sets and all were deeply into the intricacies of a cricket match. But the rest of the lounge could care less. In thinking about the state of baseball today, were we going down that same road as cricket? And, has football really taken over?
The national TV ratings are one indicating factor of football’s attraction in the Fall. It has a week full of hype before their single game during the week and they draw for that single game, big numbers on the national stage. Allen Barra wrote in The Atlantic last year (10.30.13) that “There’s no disputing that fact that football championship-game viewership dwarfs baseball’s championship-series viewership. But ‘The World Series vs. the Super Bowl’ actually stopped being a contest decades ago. Since January 14, 1968, when the Green Bay Packers beat the Oakland Raiders before an estimated TV audience of over 39 million, the Super Bowl has consistently drawn more viewers. The most-watched World Series game ever was Game Seven of the 1986 series between the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox, which was seen by around 38.9 million viewers.”
He also notes ‘Baseball’s appeal is largely regional, while football’s is national. Baseball is followed locally, generally by fans who go to games. Football is followed on TV by fans who seldom, if ever, go to the stadium to see the games in person: Back in 2000, a report by MLB’s Blue Ribbon Panel estimated that perhaps 96% of all of those who identify themselves as football fans have never been to a pro football game.”
In all honesty, baseball is one of the dominating television sporting events of all time. And it continues to draw huge, hidden numbers, dominating local numbers. For instance, on Friday evening, 16.104 million people watched broadcast television in America. In the meantime, on that evening, 17.213 million were watching cable television in America. Of that total, 5.591 million were watching baseball on local cable outlets throughout America. If baseball were all on one channel (or network), it would have ranked #3 behind CBS’ ‘Blue Bloods’ (5.91 million viewers) and NBC’s ‘Dateline (5.7 million viewers).
Five and one-half million viewers, on average for a game anytime during the week, multiplied by 162 games is one astounding total. It is also an whopping large amount of content. That is why cable operators are offering big bucks for baseball packages. And that is where the money is. Why? Because that is where the audience is, day in and day out. Take a look at some of the teams and you can see for yourself why baseball is dominant. In Milwaukee, while battling for a pennant, the Brewers can draw 40 some thousand into Miller Park. However, FOX Sports and the Brewers know they will draw 137,160 viewers on average. In New York, while the Yankees battle old age and have a hope for another chance at post season, they may fill their new park but they know 579,000 viewers will be watching YES and the game. You can’t build a ball park big enough to hold all those fans. And if you think that is big, try Toronto. While they may not fill the park every night, they draw an average of a half million fans on tv and a couple of weeks ago drew nearly 800,000 viewers.
Baseball IS America’s pastime. Nationally on TV it may not draw the huge numbers, but locally, it is king.