For the one thousandth time: NFL and MLB TV ratings are apples and oranges

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Dejan Kovacevic writes this morning:

One argument often heard in Major League Baseball circles is that the best way to get great TV ratings for the World Series is to have two very large markets in the equation.

Oh, really?

The Steelers-Packers Super Bowl, comprised of two markets that are among the smallest in professional sports, drew the largest TV audience for any program in the history of our society, Fox announced yesterday.

He goes on to attribute this television popularity to the fact that the NFL is “fair” and Major League Baseball is not due to its financial structure. He says that unlike in baseball, market size — and Pittsburgh and Green Bay are tiny markets — don’t enter into it at all.

Without even passing on the fairness of baseball’s financial system — I realize it’s flawed; that’s another discussion — why do we continue to see NFL ratings and Major League Baseball ratings compared like this?  Yes, the NFL is more popular, full stop. I don’t dispute that. But the degree of its greater popularity should not be inferred from its television ratings.

The vast, vast majority of baseball games are consumed on a local level. Fans watch their own teams’ games and rarely watch others. Why? Because their team is on TV every day. The couple of national broadcasts a week aren’t at all significant in comparison.

Football, in contrast, is a nationally-televised sport. As in, every NFL football game is carried by a national broadcaster. Yes, there is “regional coverage,” but without looking I bet you that the majority of the nation had access to either a Packers or a Steelers game every week this past season.  Cowboys and Patriots too. The marquee teams are defacto national teams with national fan bases in the habit of watching them on national broadcasts.

That is what leads to gigantic national television ratings for football games. That and a host of other factors such as scarcity of actual games, weather and attractiveness of the sport on a flat screen that naturally makes football a better TV sport than baseball is.  I seriously doubt that the underlying economics of the game enter into your average fan’s decision to tune in the Super Bowl vs., say, the World Series.

Agent: Nick Senzel’s reassigment ‘egregious case of service time manipulation’

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Reds prospect Nick Senzel is ready for the majors. Although he battled injuries, the 23-year-old performed well with Triple-A Louisville last season, batting .310/.378/.509 with 20 extra-base hits, 25 RBI, 23 runs scored, and eight stolen bases in 193 plate appearances. Senzel has also performed well this spring, batting .308 across 39 at-bats.

The Reds, however, announced on Friday that Senzel was among a handful of players reassigned to minor league camp. Senzel was drafted as a third baseman, began playing second base last year, and had been playing in center field during spring training. The common thought is that the Reds, who have built a competitive roster, will keep Senzel at Triple-A to begin the season and call him up right after the club secures an extra year of contractual control.

Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, Senzel’s agent Joel Wolfe calls Senzel’s reassignment an “egregious case of service time manipulation.” The full quote:

I don’t believe I’ve ever made public statements on this issue in my career, but I feel compelled to do so in this case where it feels like a simply egregious case of service time manipulation.

We are well aware of the mandate from ownership for the Reds to win this year — and this seems to fly in the face of it. The NL Central was decided by one game last year. Every game matters. This is a shortsighted move that may be frugal now but could cost them dearly later.

Nick Senzel is not a young prospect. He’s a major league-ready impact-type player. He has done everything they’ve asked this spring, including working hard to become a major league center fielder.

Nick takes pride in wearing the Reds uniform. He appreciates how much support he’s received from Reds fans. He’s going to go to Triple-A and prove every day he belongs in MLB.

We have covered the service time manipulation issue pretty extensively here, so Wolfe’s statement doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Prior to an injury, the Blue Jays were going to undeservingly stuff Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. — baseball’s No. 1 prospect — at Triple-A for the first two weeks or so of the season. The White Sox were going to do the same with Eloy Jiménez before using their leverage to nudge him into inking an extension. The Braves toyed with Ronald Acuña Jr.’s playing time last year. Kris Bryant and Maikel Franco filed respective grievances against the Cubs and Phillies for service time manipulation several years ago.

Team executives don’t outright admit to gaming a prospect’s service time to gain that extra year of control because that’s how one loses a grievance. They dance around the topic by making a nebulous claim, typically about the player’s defense needing to be worked on at Triple-A. That’s what the Cubs said about Bryant, and it’s what the Jays said about Guerrero. It’s a subjective enough evaluation that it can’t be falsified. It’s why the grievances that have been filed over this have fizzled out and it’s why more and more teams have brazenly joined the service time manipulation bandwagon.

Senzel’s case is, admittedly, a bit more murky. Though he performed well this spring, Scott Schebler has outperformed him, batting .379 with five extra-base hits and 11 walks in roughly 40 trips to the plate. The starting spot in right field is taken by Yasiel Puig and left field is taken by Jesse Winker. Schebler has ostensibly earned the starting job in center. I can’t imagine Wolfe having a compelling case if he were to file a grievance on Senzel’s behalf.

That being said, it is important that agents (and the MLBPA) speak out about this when they can. Senzel’s case may not be open-and-shut, but bringing service time manipulation into the public consciousness will have a lasting impact ahead of the December 2021 expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement. Holding team executives publicly accountable may make them less willing to manipulate their players’ service time going forward, as it may sour what could otherwise be a terrific relationship between team and player. Service time manipulation is an important piece of the labor puzzle and those on the players’ side have to seize whatever they can to potentially gain leverage. Awareness leads to solidarity.