Christ Scott, Just Let it Go

Since my thoughts on the Rockies/D-backs series being bad for baseball were almost universally slammed, I have been in a more defensive crouch than a homophobe at a bath house.  I thought I was over the topic, but the TV sports media critic at USA Today, Michael Hiestand had an article that summed up what I was afraid was going to happen in the NLCS. 

Let’s unwrap. TBS’ first-ever coverage of the playoffs produced the four lowest ratings ever for prime-time League Championship Series games. Its games averaged 2.8% of U.S. TV households for the Colorado Rockies sweeping the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.

Consider what else is in that ratings ballpark: In college football, ESPN’s most recent coverage of the Emerald Bowl drew 3.7%, its Chick-Fil-A Bowl 4%. In golf, CBS’ final-round telecast of the Nissan Open, Wachovia Championship and Bridgestone Invitational each drew 3.4%. And baseball this year got better ratings with ESPN’s Home Run Derby (4.3%) and ABC’s Little League World Series final (3.3%).

Hiestand breaks down a lot more of the particulars in his piece, which I recommend reading in full.  Here was his final conclusion.

And while TBS’ production was uneven, it wasn’t so bad it drove away viewers. At least not many.

So let’s just solve this riddle: Blame the teams.

They’re from small markets: Phoenix is the USA’s 12th-biggest TV market and Denver is No. 18.

Worse yet, even the hometown fans weren’t all that interested. TBS’ NLCS games averaged 26.4% of TV households in Denver and 13.6% in Phoenix. That’s down from last year’s New York Mets-St. Louis Cardinals NLCS, which drew 31.3% in St. Louis and 15.8% in New York, which has more than twice as many households as Phoenix and Denver combined.

And last year’s NLCS had more appeal in big cities. The markets in which it got its highest ratings (after St. Louis and New York) were No. 2 Los Angeles, No. 4 Chicago and No. 5 Philadelphia. TBS’ top cities, after Denver and Phoenix: No. 47 Memphis, No. 27 San Diego and No. 43 Las Vegas.

David Levy, president of Turner Sports, which has a seven-year MLB deal, agrees game times weren’t the problem — "it had nothing to do with times" — and cites one pivotal factor: "It was the teams."

If so, that suggests a troubling big picture for baseball. When a sports league is strong, like the NFL, its playoff matchups should automatically have national appeal and teams’ market sizes should be footnotes.

Still, Levy is optimistic in a sort of soul-of-corporate America manner: "From the get-go on this, we could not be happier!" At least on the record.

I realize this doesn’t prove my point that this series was bad for the overall game of baseball, but it’s hard to see what part of the NLCS was good for the game, except that a few young players on the Rockies received a little more attention.  The Indians versus the Rockies will continue this virtual ratings boycott.  I know, I know…it’s ESPN and Fox’s fault.  I’m just bummed that I can’t talk about the games with anyone I know, as they are all watching football.  Where is a Goliath when you need them? 


17 thoughts on “Christ Scott, Just Let it Go

  1. 1.  The Indians versus the Rockies will continue this virtual ratings boycott.

    Yup, I agree with that. If anything, hard core fans will be pretty happy watching 2 new fresh young up & coming teams, I’ll be watching that’s for sure.

  2. 2.  hey Scott, I’ll jump in and start kicking wildly at ya again!

    how about this: could you define, in one sentence, what “good for baseball” means?

    I suspect that you and others here may have significantly different definitions..

  3. 3.  Or… maybe they shouldn’t have started the games at friggin’ 10:00pm EST?

    It’s their own doing. Start the games at a decent hour and it gets turned on at every bar in the U.S.

  4. 4.  Are not the majority of baseball fans your one team supporter who rarely tune in once their team drops from contention. As such the Yanks, and other big clubs, pull in ratings almost entirely from their own metropolis’ cache of local and dislocated sports fans.

    Is the answer then to do away with the luxury tax and ensure that the bigger fan bases, the bigger cities, have an even greater advantage thus ensuring happy ratings at the expense of your local Rocky/Diamondback fan? You know, for the good of the game.

    I believe baseball has a better chance of turning more people into baseball fans over my-team fans with these entertaining have-not series than to perpetuate the illusion of a strong game by constantly pitting its biggest teams against each other.

    The NFL comparisons are pointless as the sport is the equivalent of Sunday night bingo with the girls. 🙂

  5. 5.  When you say ‘bad for baseball’ people are going to take it different ways. Bad for ‘the business of baseball’ is different from ‘bad for the competition that is baseball’. There is no difference between a Colorado vs. Cleveland series from the vantage point of skill or sport from Yankees vs. Cubs. But there is a huge difference on the business end which can rightly be called a disaster for the ‘business of baseball’.

  6. 6.  I think the focus on ratings is possibly misplaced.

    Has anyone analyzed which baseball TV and radio deals are profitable and by how much?

    The game seems, overall, to be economically healthy, and the TV deals are part of that. Series of the Phoenix/Colorado variety have gotten woebegone ratings for decades, and yet it is still has a toehold on broadcast TV and a big presence on basic cable. Nobody forced TBS or Fox into these contracts. Don’t they make money?

  7. 7.  How does one go about becoming a famous team that is respected for winning unless you actually win?

  8. 8.  5 I’ll again disagree that the ratings are a disaster for the business of baseball.

    Matchups like these will happen. All the possible permutations are knowable in advance. So if you pay for such rights without considering the likelihood of such a matchup, you’re a lousy, lousy businessperson.

    This matchup should be no more a disaster for the baseball industry than a car accident is for the insurance industry.

  9. 9.  8 I think ‘the business of baseball’ is like an iceberg with most of the revenue at the local level. The World Series doesn’t make or break the league but it’s not good to have small ratings for your biggest event. I don’t care one way or the other if FOX makes money or MLB can increase it’s national rights package but it’s not good for the long term health of the game to promote stars and drama and get Cleveland and Colorado. I don’t care about profit-and-loss in the short term but it’s not good for the long term prospects of the game to have series on that don’t hook new fans and I’m pretty sure Cleveland vs. Colorado isn’t hooking anybody who isn’t already a fan.

  10. 10.  7 I was thinking about that and as a kid I thought that Cincinnati and Pittsburgh were ‘famous teams’ and they’re small market. I heard stories about those franchises and their old players so any series with them seemed part of a larger picture.

    Denver is a fairly large market but it doesn’t have a lot of tradition and it’s not promoted to the rest of the nation very well. Cleveland is the least glamorous of the traditional sad sacks (Boston, Cubs, Indians) with Boston no longer fitting the bill.

    I think MLB needs to promote the sport of baseball better, not just the MLB games. Embrace the minor leagues, show the journeys of the various players to the big leagues so the entire nation has a stake in watching. When you tell people who Troy Tulowitzki is you have to show him playing in college at Long Beach, in the minors in Modesto, then Tulsa, OK, THEN with the Rockies. If you market it like that then you pick up 4 markets with one player and surely most of the nation with both rosters. But they don’t market it that way.

  11. 11.  screw it … mediots and talking heads (and cheap-jack columnists) all bitch and whine about the payroll inflected disparity in MLB … when they get a post-season that features interesting teams from smaller markets, all they can do is bitch and moan about the big-market match-ups that we’re missing

  12. 12.  I think the solution for Scott would be to designate one big market team in each league as a finalist. That way all the other teams could have a playoff to see who faces a team like the Mets/Cubs/Dodgers in the NLCS and a playoff to see who plays the Yankees/Red Sox/White Sox in the ALCS. It’s pure genius and would be great for baseball. 🙂
    vr, Xei

  13. 13.  The ratings reflect how fewer people watched the NLCS. You can go with late starting times, but even the Phoenix market gets a pathetic 13.6, so that only goes so far.
    I heard no one talking about the NLCS and I’ve been performing the past week in states in the midwest, so it’s not an east coast bias.

    Having 2 teams with little tradition, being in cities that have never been baseball towns is a really bad mix. I watched the games. I have been caught up in the amazing story which is the Rockies. It is sad to me that most of America has little idea of what is happening, since there wasn’t a Mets or Cubs team to draw them to the concert.

    I’m not knocking the teams that made it this far (well, maybe the D-backs, who I have little understanding of how they managed to do what they did this season). It’s about David and Goliath. I’m not saying it is bad for baseball because of how this effects Fox and TBS. The ratings are just a microcosm of the larger issue. They reflect that less than half the average amount of people are watching these games and that is why I think it is bad for baseball.

  14. 14.  Some smaller revenue teams like the Cards, Twins, A’s, Indians, Astros, etc. have played solid baseball for enough years to create some national fan interest. When you put 2 teams on the national stage, who have struggled for the past few years, are from a similar region of the country, and don’t have players that are known to the casual fan, it is a problem. The equation from this scenario is that less than half the average amount of people watched the NLCS.

    Hardcore hockey fans don’t care who is playing in the Stanley Cup and I’m sure many of them were excited about new teams making the Finals. Well, Tampa Bay/Calgary (2004), (2005 strike season),Carolina/Edmonton (2006), and Anaheim/Ottawa (2007) was not good for the overall game. It is good for a historic team in the sport to be part of the mix. (Yeah, I know Edmonton had a great run with Gretzky, Kurri, Messier, but the Oilers don’t draw casual fans to the game, anymore.)

    If the Rockies or D-backs would have faced the Cards, Astros, or Mets, there would have been a lot more people watching the games. When I grew up, it didn’t matter who played in the NLCS, most guys watched it. In the TV land where there are so many choices, this isn’t the case. I want baseball to continue to grow it’s product and be more competitive with football. I hate that baseball is rarely discussed on national sports talk radio. The 2007 NLCS might be a negligible blip in the grand scheme of things, but I really doubt it will be a positive.

  15. 15.  There are several problems with the current system, most discussed above, but I’ll throw another culprit out there: the unbalanced schedule.

    The Mets play the Rockies, what 6-7 times a season? Fans in NY don’t get to see these guys on a fairly regular basis. Especially when half of those 6-7 games are played at 7:05 MDT. So, having the wild card, and creating a situation where two teams from the same division could play each other in the LCS, means you are going to have a situation where only fans in that region are going to have any knowledge of the teams.

  16. 16.  To me another big problem was simply that it was on TBS and there are still, believe it or not, many people who don’t have cable and aren’t willing to pay $60/month or more to get it. I would have loved to watch the Rockies/Dbacks, partially because I love baseball regardless of who is playing and partially because as a Cubs fan I wanted to see the Dbacks get creamed.

    But I don’t have cable and I’m not about to go out of my way to find someone with TBS to watch those games. I wonder what the demographics are out West in terms of the percentage of people that get TBS. I would bet that outside of California it’s lower than it is on the East Coast.

    What would have been good for baseball is to #1) not be stupid and blackout the games locally and #2) not be stupid and put the playoffs on TBS which has less viewers than FOX.

    It stinks of Bill Wirtz taking the Blackhawks off local TV and telling people if they want to see the game they can buy a ticket.

  17. 17.  Here is the problem with the cable argument. The first round the ratings were excellent. It came down to way less people were interested in the Rockies and d-backs. Hell, even the people of Arizona even seem that enthusiastic in their interest.

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