old TV

Why baseball ratings are low


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.

David Ortiz and Kris Bryant win 2016 Hank Aaron Awards

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  (L-R) Kris Bryant #17 of the Chicago Cubs, Major League Baseball Hall of Famer 2016 Hank Aaron, Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred and David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox pose during the Hank Aaron Award ceremony prior to Game Two of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
Jason Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday that former Red Sox DH David Ortiz and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant won the 2016 Hank Aaron Award in their respective leagues.

Ortiz, 40, flourished in his final season, batting .315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs and 127 RBI in 626 plate appearances during the regular season. His .620 slugging percentage, 1.021 OPS, and 48 doubles led the majors while his 127 RBI led the American League. Ortiz also won the Hank Aaron Award back in 2005.

Bryant, 24, is the likely winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award as well. He hit .292/.385/.554 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI over 699 plate appearances. He also led the league by scoring 121 runs. Bryant is the first Cub to win the Hank Aaron Award since Aramis Ramirez in 2008.

Last year’s winners in the AL and NL, respectively, were Josh Donaldson and Bryce Harper.

Alex Rodriguez is taking his analyst role quite seriously

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 12: Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees answers question in a press conference after the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium on August 12, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

If you’ve happened to catch any of the coverage of the 2016 postseason on Fox and FS1, you’ve heard former Yankees DH Alex Rodriguez as part of an analyst panel with host Kevin Burkhardt and former major leaguers Pete Rose and Frank Thomas. Rodriguez has drawn rave reviews not just for passing a rather low bar we set for former athletes-turned-commentators, but because he’s adding real insight drawn both from his playing days and from doing research.

Indeed, Rodriguez is taking his new job as an analyst quite seriously, Newsday’s Neil Best reports. Bardia Shah-Rais, the VP of production for Fox, said of Rodriguez, “This is not a hobby for him. It’s not a parachute in. He’s invested. If we have a noon meeting, he’s there at 11:30 a.m. He’s emailing story ideas in the morning. He wants research. He’s almost all-in to the point where it’s annoying.”

Rose also praised Rodriguez, saying, “You’ve never been around a guy who prepares more than Alex does. Alex does his homework. He knows the game. He understands players. He’s into the deal . . . Frank does a great job in preparation, too. I’m the only one that don’t prepare as much as these two guys. I don’t know if that’s because I can’t write or what it is. But these guys do their homework and they ask questions and they ask the right questions and then you put that in with our experience, all the things we’ve been through and how good we get along with each other, that’s why it shows up on the TV.”

Rodriguez, who hasn’t officially retired despite not having played since the Yankees released him in mid-August, wouldn’t commit to more TV work beyond this year’s postseason.