Steve Lepore of SBNation has a smart take on why ratings for nationally-televised MLB games are low and continue to trend downward. Unlike every other take you see on this, however, it is not attributed to people hating baseball or baseball not being as cool and awesome as football.
Rather, it’s a story those of you who have been reading HBT for a while know already: it’s a story about fragmentation and localization. Whereas, years ago, baseball fans could only see a relatively low number of local games now they can see all of them if they want to, making a “Game of the Week” less necessary than it once was. At the same time, as fans become more immersed in their own team they become less willing to watch other teams, exacerbating the trend away from nationally televised games. And once their team is eliminated? Pfft, forget it.
It’s also a story about the dynamic of baseball not being terribly well-suited to casual drop-in fans who want to see one big game because, with few exceptions, baseball doesn’t really ever have “one big game.” This, I will admit, is an indirect result of the rise of the NFL. With only 16 games and so many winner-take-all contests, the idea of the event telecast — of structuring your Sunday around one game — is much stronger than it used to be when the NFL was less popular and there were more regional broadcasts.
The real health of baseball on television is a look at aggregate ratings across all regional broadcasts. I’ve not seen these numbers but I would suspect that they show baseball to be a healthy TV sport overall, even if it’s in the dumps, ratings-wise, on the national level.
Can anything be done about the national problems, though? Lepore has one rather radical suggestion which you may hate. Click through and read to find out. But man, if that’s the choice we have, I’ll gladly accept the lower ratings.