Fox sports honcho: baseball is a regional game

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Every time someone talks smack about baseball by bringing up the relatively low ratings for national games of the week, the All-Star Game or the playoffs, I go off on some rant about how that person is ignorant of how baseball works on television.  About how baseball is a local game and how you can’t simply look at the ratings for one game and make anything approaching an informed judgment on the health of it as a televised entity.

When I say that, the response is usually “get used to baseball being a second-tier sport!”  Bah.  And do you know why I say “bah?”  Because I’m not the only one ranting like that.  Recently the Hollywood Reporter interviewed David Hill, the head of Fox Sports, and he said pretty much the same thing I say:

THR: Fox pays $416 million a year for rights to Major League Baseball, including weekly regular-season games, the All-Star Game and the World Series. Baseball ratings are down; what’s the reason?

Hill: There’s been the rise of the regionalization of the sport, and the decision to play interleague games each year has taken away the luster of the All-Star Game. And if you look at the truly national teams, you quickly start to run out after the Phillies, the Red Sox, the Yankees and, to a certain extent, the Rangers, and you pray the Cubs will show some life. So the ratings are dependent on who we get into the pennant race. Are baseball ratings the same as they were 15 years ago? No. But [the World Series] is still a huge event and is going to dominate the night it’s on. So in terms of importance to the network, for prestige and relevance, it’s important and will remain that way.

The next question was whether Fox loses money on baseball. Hill’s answer: nope.  They have up years and down years, but the suggestion that baseball is some tremendous loss-leader Fox uses to promote whatever half-baked show it’s launching in November is simply not true.

Know what I’d like to see?  Overall baseball ratings for all teams on a given non-national night.  Specifically, how many people across the country on any random Tuesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday night are tuned in to baseball, no matter what network it’s on or what teams playing.  No, I still don’t think that matches a football Sunday, but I bet if we saw those numbers people would say something very different about the popularity and health of the game.

Not that such numbers would help any one network seeking a national broadcasting contract as things are currently constructed.  But if a network got baseball rights and figured out a way to leverage the increasingly regional nature of baseball fandom via new or radical programming packages, they could probably do pretty well whether the Yankees were playing or not.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.