Right about now is high time for pickin'-on-baseball season. All of the other sports are over. Most Americans have to choose between baseball and the Tour de France for their sports fix, and the other option has "France" right in the title of the event! They don't even try to hide it. As such, you'll get a lot of people checking in with a sport they don't like, remembering why they don't like it, and then making fun of it without mercy. It's adorable.
This dovetails nicely with the release of the All-Star Game television ratings, which are good fodder for baseball-mocking. The ratings have been declining for decades.
And you know the ratings that come out on Wednesday could be a disaster because the game was a blowout (though the overnight ratings were somewhat encouraging). If the ratings trend holds, in 2023, the game won't even be broadcast on TV. Announcers will be dispatched to individual homes, where they'll just listen to a radio broadcast with you and hang out.
Joe Buck: Would you like to hear an anecdote about where this guy grew up?
Joe Buck: Cool. Just asking.
Tim McCarver: Where he grew up isn't necessarily where he was born, though in this instance, he does happen to be born in the same area where he grew up, by virtue of his staying there after he was born.
Tom Verducci wrote a long article about the relative success of the All-Star Game, and how the ratings are just fine. Slipped in the article is a note about how the Pro Bowl is beating out the All-Star Game now. Elitists like to make fun of the All-Star Game, but everyone likes to make fun of the Pro Bowl. It is quite possibly the most useless sporting event ever broadcast on national television, and everyone knows it. Still pulling higher ratings than the All-Star Game, which just beats out Judge Judy reruns.
But here's the paradox: Baseball is stronger financially than its ever been. Rolling in money. Highest attendance figures ever. Insane local-television deals. Here are some graphs that mean more than the one up there about ratings:
Baseball is a regional game now. That's not an original observation. I didn't come up with it. But it's true. In 1970, baseball was a national sport, and the ratings for the national games reflected that. In 2012, the game is a regional sport, and the local and national ratings reflect that as well. People in Chicago don't care about Seattle, and people in Seattle don't care about Los Angeles. But they sure as heck care about their own teams, and the television deals prove that.
There are a lot of reasons, I'd gather. If I had to make an educated guess, it would have to do with the regional cable networks, the Internet allowing partisan fans to seek out like-minded partisan fans, and the combination of 162-game seasons with 30 teams and 25-man rosters. My job is to read about baseball and write about baseball, spitting out articles like some sort of baseball-content mulcher. Yet I can always go to Baseball Reference and find a current player I've never heard of within one minute. Here, I'll try. In 21 seconds, I discovered there's a Chuckie Fick playing for the Cardinals. Well, alright.
But you can bet Cardinals fans have opinions about Fick, and whether he should be up instead of Jess Todd. It's way too hard for the casual fan to keep up with 2430 individual games and 750 active players. It's too hard for the ardent, obsessive fan. But when you whittle that down to 162 games and 25 players, now you have something people can follow. Not only something you can follow, but follow all year. For hundreds of games. On your phone and computer for a reasonable sum. Or in person for an occasionally less reasonable sum.
The result is a healthy sport. The collateral is a lack of shiny ratings for All-Star Games and playoff games. Baseball will take this tradeoff. The owners watching the value of their franchises explode, the players getting nine-figure deals … they'll all take this tradeoff.
So remember the difference between 1970 and 2012 the next time someone makes fun of the All-Star Game ratings. No one cares. On either side. And as long as we've agreed on that …
Selig says "this time it counts"/WS home field format to remain for ASG. important for TV partner— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) July 10, 2012
… maybe it's time to drop that? If it's not making a difference, I mean. Dunno. Just a thought. I have important thoughts on this specific issue. But even if Fox isn't thrilled with the declining ratings, baseball doesn't care. The talking point was dead years ago.
(Still … the Pro Bowl gets better ratings? Yeeeeeesh.)