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.

Rays lose, clinching postseason berth for Athletics

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The Rays lost 4-1 to the Yankees on Monday night, which clinched a postseason berth for the Athletics just as they began their own game against the Mariners. For the 94-62 A’s, it’s their first postseason appearance since 2014 when they lost the AL Wild Card game to the Royals.

Major League Baseball celebrated the Athletics’ achievement by tweeting this fact: The A’s are the first team since 1988 to make the postseason with baseball’s lowest Opening Day payroll ($66 million).

Yay?

John J. Fisher, who has owned the A’s since 2005, has a net worth approaching $3 billion. The Athletics franchise is valued at over $1 billion. Yet the A’s have never had an Opening Day payroll at $90 million or above and have consistently been among the teams with the lowest payrolls. The cultural shift towards embracing analytics has allowed the A’s to get away with investing as little money as possible into the team. Moneyball helped change baseball’s zeitgeist such that many began to fetishize doing things on the cheap and now the league itself is embracing it.

What the fact MLB tweeted says is actually this: John J. Fisher was able to save a few bucks this year and the A’s still somehow made it to the postseason.

The Athletics’ success is due to a whole host of players, but particularly youngsters Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Lou Trivino, among others. All are pre-arbitration aside from Manaea. When it comes time to pay them something approaching what they’re actually worth, will the A’s reward them for their contributions or will they do what they’ve always done and cut bait? After reaching the postseason in 2014, the A’s traded away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, and John Jaso. Each was a big influence on the club’s success. Athletics fans should be happy their favorite team has reached the postseason, but if the team’s history is any precedent, they shouldn’t get attached to any of the players. Is that really something Major League Baseball should be advocating?