Baseball is Dying Alert: World Cup Ratings Edition

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Geographic areas are measured in Units of Rhode Islands. Sports TV ratings are measured in Units of World Series.

Note: in these comparisons, both Rhode Island and the World Series are used because they are putatively “big” things — a whole state and the crowning jewel of the National Pastime — but they are really intended to end up looking small compared to what is being measured. That’s the joke!

The latest example of this comes from people talking about the ratings of Sunday’s USA-Portugal World Cup match. A lot of people watched. How many?

While not near the totals scored by the NFL, even for many regular-season games, the U.S. audience for the World Cup game on Sunday easily eclipsed the NBA Finals this year, which averaged 15.5 million viewers, as well as the 2013 World Series, which averaged 14.9 million viewers. The NHL playoffs are not even remotely as popular as the World Cup, having averaged only 5 million viewers this season.

Go do a search for “World Cup World Series” or something like it on Twitter and see how many people are just giddy about that.

And, to the extent they are excited about soccer, they should be giddy. Those are great ratings. They’re likely significantly inflated over what typical league play soccer, be it MLS or Premier or whatever, can obtain due to the World Cup being a one-game, every four years event, but they’re still great. Soccer truly has arrived in the United States and it’s cool to see that happening. Let a hundred flowers blossom, and all.

To the extent they are citing this as a means of slamming baseball, however, they really do need to chill out, of course. This is nothing new if you’re a regular HBT reader, but we’re back in apples-oranges territory again when ratings like these are discussed. Let’s cover the bases quickly:

  • The majority of people in this country who call themselves soccer fans are USA fans and their team was in the game in question.
  • Baseball fans divide their loyalties among 30 teams and thus 93% of baseball fans’ teams are not in the World Series each year.
  • The USA-Portugal game was one game — an event — at an ideal time on a Sunday evening with no other major sporting event competing with it.
  • The World Series is seven games, played in the middle of football season and often going head-to-head with college and pro games.
  • For both sports and entertainment, our TV watching habits are not geared toward series and long-builds anymore. They’re geared toward big events which serve as shared experiences across multiple platforms at a single time. Think the Super Bowl. Think the Olympics. Think episodes of whatever Sunday night prestige TV show all the cool kids are raving about at a given time.

So great on soccer. I in no way wish to rain on its parade here, because it really is cool that we, as a nation, are increasingly stopping to watch this stuff. It makes me feel like we’re more in tune with the world in some weird way and in an increasingly fragmented time, any shared experience is uplifting, even if it ends with our hearts being ripped out in stoppage time.

But pooh on anyone who uses this as a means of making baseball look insignificant this way. And for that matter, pooh on all of those people who do it to Rhode Island all the time. Rhode Island is a totally fine state and it deserves better treatment than you’re giving it, buddy.

Report: Yankees, Reds finalizing trade for Sonny Gray

Sonny Gray
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Barring physicals and roster reshuffling, the Yankees and Reds are all but ready to finalize a deal involving right-hander Sonny Gray, Fancred’s Jon Heyman reported Saturday. The exact return has not been confirmed, but Heyman hears that the Yankees will receive top infield prospect Shed Long and a draft pick in exchange for Gray, with an as-yet unnamed third player possibly involved as well.

According to several reports earlier in the day, negotiations came down to the wire as the Yankees first had their eye on the Reds’ no. 6 prospect, 22-year-old catcher Tyler Stephenson. The Reds ultimately elected to hang on to Stephenson and send Long to New York, as they currently have a greater need for catching depth and weren’t expected to be able to provide a full-time role for the infielder in 2019. Long, 23, is ranked seventh in the Reds’ system and appears to be nearing his MLB debut after batting .261/.353/.412 with 12 homers and a .765 OPS across 522 PA at Double-A Pensacola last year.

Gray figures to step into a prominent role within the Reds’ rotation, which is likely to be a mix of recently-acquired left-hander Alex Wood and right-handers Tanner Roark, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, and Tyler Mahle, among several others. Despite Gray’s struggle to remain productive on the mound — he’s three years removed from his only All-Star campaign and turned in a disappointing 4.90 ERA and 2.16 SO/BB rate in 2018 — he might yet help stabilize a team that trotted out the fifth-worst rotation in the majors last season. If, on the other hand, the veteran righty finds the hitter-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park a little too unforgiving this year, the Reds can take some comfort in the fact that he’s due to enter free agency in 2020.