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.

The day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee”

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Personally, I would’ve assumed that the day Giancarlo Stanton became a “True Yankee” was when the Yankees traded for him, thereby willingly incurring a legal obligation to pay him hundreds of millions of dollars and pencil him in the lineup until his knees fell off and, probably, for some time after. That, however, is not how things go with the New York Yankees.

The Yankees can trade for you, but that does not make you a “True Yankee.” They can sign you to a nine-figure deal in free agency, but your signature on the contract is not your “signature Yankee moment.” They can draft you, develop you for six years and play you for another three and you still may not have enough time and accomplishments under your belt to be anything other than, more or less, a probationary employee.

No, to be a “True Yankee” you have to be declared so by the media after doing something neat like hitting a big home run like Stanton did last night to lead the Yankees to victory over the Mariners. Until then — until you become the hero of a Wednesday night game in June, I guess — you’re suspect. After that, well . . .

And:


And:

Seeing these headlines and the many other stories and tweets with references to Stanton’s newfound “True Yankee”-dom makes me wonder when, say, Jonathan Villar, became a “True Brewer” or when Daniel Descalso will deliver his “Signature Diamondback Moment.” I’m sure someone will tell us.

Haha, just kidding. No other team does that. Probably because no other team likes to stoke its own mystique like the Yankees do. They have always done this to some degree — and given the franchise’s success, they are allowed a bit more leeway to boast than other ones are — but I blame George Steinbrenner for taking this to silly levels.

Big Stein was the first owner to really take advantage of free agency, but that also made him the first owner to stigmatize the players he signed as somehow owing the team more than any other player for their having accepted a big paycheck. For having to prove themselves in ways other players didn’t. He famously did this with Dave Winfield, contrasting him poorly with Reggie Jackson, who had proven himself in ways that made Steinbrenner happy. He never really did this with homegrown Yankees players. It was like a parent being partial to their natural child and cold to the adopted one.

Steinbrenner also built up the level of expectations for Yankees players — all of them — beyond reason. I think it was in the late 90s that he started up with that “anything less than a World Series title is failure” jazz. I question whether that was motivational to highly-trained and already motivated baseball players, but it was certainly good for building the Yankees brand. The idea that you’re not a “True Yankee” — which I seem to first remember being a sticking point with Jason Giambi — is a logical extension of that. While it may not be the best way to run an organization it is, as a matter of brand-building, pretty effective to portray your team as having higher expectations and something of an initiation period for its players. It’s a way of making fans feel like the club and the players they root for are a level above everyone else.

Of course, George Steinbrenner was George Steinbrenner, and being sorta crazy and sorta unfair and working overtime to build the Yankees brand was what made him The Boss. It was literally his job to do that kind of thing, so let’s not be too hard on him. I get why he did it that way.

I do wonder why, however, the media tasked with covering the Yankees has so eagerly taken up the job of Yankees brand-building like that. Wherever Big Stein is today, he’s likely beyond caring about things like money, but I bet he’s still probably pretty happy with all of the free P.R. work his team continues to get, long after he shuffled off this planet and became an immortal Yankee.

Wait. I’ve gotta talk to a trademark lawyer, stat.