Wednesday, November 3, 2010

No longer America's pastime

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a team wins the World Series and no one watches, does it matter?

Baseball has long been considered “America’s Pastime,” but with viewership on a rather steady decline for the past 15 or so years, since the strike of 1994-95, that name has become more and more of a formality.

Many people say that they’re sick of the teams with the money winning every year – the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, etc. But this year, the Texas Rangers, with one of the lowest payrolls in MLB (27th of 30), made the World Series, and people didn’t watch. The San Francisco Giants won the Series for the first time in 56 years, and no one outside of the Bay area cares.

So, fans don’t like when the Yankees or Red Sox win, but they also don’t watch when the low-payroll teams are playing. How can baseball win?

Sadly for the league, we are in a time where people are getting sick of highly-paid athletes with the “me, me me,” mentality that is omnipresent in baseball (and basketball, which has also taken a viewership hit in the past few years) – which is why football is flourishing. It is by far the sport that depends most on the “team.” In baseball, A-Rod could go 0-for-5 and they Yankees could still win by 10. In football, if Drew Brees throws for only 60-percent completion with four interceptions like he did in Week 7 against the Cleveland Browns, the Saints are going to have a hard time winning.

Sure, certain NFL positions are the “glory” positions and get more attention, none more so that the quarterback, but any football player will tell you that the lineman are just as important – how can Peyton Manning complete 75-percent of his passes without his line keeping away those would-be sackers? And Adrian Peterson would have a hard time making a 15-yard run down the middle without the line making that hole for him.

But really, the ratings tell the story of the sport.

The day after the Super Bowl, that’s all anyone is talking about. Tuesday when I walked into my office, one of our Soldiers actually said “I didn’t even know the World Series started.”

That would never – never – happen the day after the Super Bowl. Whether you’re a football fan or not, everyone knows that the Super Bowl is going on.

On Oct. 18, baseball at its finest went against the NFL. Game 3 of the American League Championship Series between the Rangers and Yankees, featured some of the biggest draws in baseball – Cliff Lee, Derek Jeter, A-Rod, Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero – and was held in baseball’s biggest market, New York; the game drew just over 8 million viewers. That same night, Monday Night Football featured two of the NFL’s smaller-market teams – the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to the Nielsen Ratings, that game drew the lowest number of Monday Night Football viewers this season – 9.5 million. You can’t argue with numbers.

My point is that the time of baseball being the glamour sport is long-gone. In part it might have to do with the commitment of baseball – 162 games per year vs. 16 in football. It’s a lot easier to get really pumped up once a week to watch your team than to watch every single night. No matter who is playing, all football fans, and even casual and non-fans, watch the Super Bowl. Clearly, the same can’t be said for the World Series.

Sadly, I’ve fallen into the “I don’t care unless it’s my team playing in the World Series” mentality. I didn’t watch a single minute of the World Series – and I consider myself a huge sports fan.

If people like me aren’t watching, what does that say about MLB? It says that only those directly invested in the game are watching any more, and that means trouble for Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.

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