The World Series ratings are low. So what?

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The ratings for Game 1 and Game 2 of the World Series are out. And it’s not shocking that they’re low. Game 1 was close to the lowest-rated World Series game of all time (maybe it was the lowest). Game 2 was a bit higher, but still pretty low compared to the past. Fox and Major League Baseball, however, are noting in press releases that the games each won the night in prime time, broke all kinds of (carefully crafted, very recent and wholly relative) ratings records and had excellent ratings in the local markets of the two teams.

It’s a now-familiar story, which we’ve talked about here at length. For my extended take on what modern low World Series ratings mean, go read my big essay about the State of Baseball and scroll down to the section entitled “It Doesn’t Matter That Baseball’s National Television Ratings Kinda Stink.” The short version: everything, with the exception of football, gets much lower ratings than it used to because of fragmentation of entertainment in general. This, combined with baseball’s increasing emphasis on local ratings, local deals and its increasing efforts to push the product to cable and the Internet, exacerbate the effect with the National Pastime.

But what I’m more interested in than the ratings themselves is the reaction to them by many fans and sports commentators. The declaration that baseball is now a “niche sport” or the mere recitation of these ratings as if they prove something in and of themselves, with that thing being damning for the game indeed.

The question I have for these people is this: “so what?”

For your own purposes, you either care about baseball or you don’t. If you do, it should hardly matter to you what the TV ratings are. One of my favorite movies of all time is “Zero Effect” and it bombed at the box office. So did “The Shawshank Redemption” for that matter. I don’t enjoy them any less simply because not too many people went and saw them.

For broader purposes, though, what does it matter? Baseball is not some national consensus any longer, I’ll grant that. It’s not widely popular. So what? What, aside from the fact that it used to be widely popular, does it matter that it is not now?

Some may make arguments that its relatively lower popularity imperils its future. I’d take issue with that — baseball is a way more lucrative business now as a so-called “niche sport” than it ever was as The National Pastime — but I feel like most people who complain that baseball’s alleged decreasing appeal is a bad thing because . . . it just is. That just as they don’t make players like Stan Musial anymore, there is something wrong with this new era. We can’t put our finger on it and, by gum, we’ll ignore all of the other factors at play, including the many, many factors which point to baseball’s vitality, but we just know, in our bones, that something is wrong.

I’ve been enjoying the hell out of the playoffs. Most of you guys have too. Other people are enjoying the things they like, be it football, reality shows, Minecraft or watching the dang paint dry. As long as these low ratings aren’t hurting baseball’s ability to continue as a going concern (they decidedly are not) and as long as the networks which pay baseball to air the games are pleased (they clearly remain so) why should anyone give a crap?

A’s running out of time to find home in Oakland, Las Vegas

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Brandon Sloter/Getty Images
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LAS VEGAS — The Oakland Athletics have spent years trying to get a new stadium while watching Bay Area neighbors such as the Giants, Warriors, 49ers and Raiders successfully move into state-of-the-art venues, and now time is running short on their efforts.

The A’s lease at RingCentral Coliseum expires after the 2024 season, and though they might be forced to extend the terms, the club and Major League Baseball have deemed the stadium unsuitable for a professional franchise.

They are searching for a new stadium in Oakland or Las Vegas, but they have experienced difficulties in both areas. The A’s missed a major deadline in October to get a deal done in Oakland, and there has been little indication they will receive the kind of funding they want from Las Vegas.

“I think the A’s have to look at it in a couple of ways,” said Brendan Bussmann, managing partner at Las Vegas-based B Global. “Obviously, they have struggled in Oakland to get a deal across the line. It isn’t for a lack of effort. . You have an owner that’s willing to pony up money, you have a club that wants to sit there and figure out a way to make it work, and you keep running into obstacles along the way.

“It’s time to fish or cut bait. Oakland, do you want them or not? And if not, where are the A’s going to get the best deal? Is it Vegas? Is it somewhere else? They’ll have to figure that out.”

What the A’s are thinking is a little bit of a mystery. Team President Dave Kaval was talkative earlier in the process, saying the A’s are pursuing two different tracks with Oakland and Las Vegas. But he went silent on the subject several months ago. A’s spokeswoman Catherine Aker said mostly recently that the club would withhold comment for now.

The A’s have been negotiating with Oakland to build a $1 billion stadium as part of a $12 billion redevelopment deal.

Newly elected Mayor Sheng Thao said reaching a deal is important as long as it makes economic sense to the city. Her predecessor, Libby Schaaf, led prior efforts to reach an agreement, but after the city and the A’s missed that October deadline, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred expressed reservations a deal will ever get done.

“The pace in Oakland has not been rapid, number one,” Manfred said at the time. “We’re in a stadium situation that’s really not tenable. I mean, we need to do something to alter the situation. So I’m concerned about the lack of pace.”

Recent California history justifies his concerns. SoFi Stadium in Southern California and Chase Center in San Francisco were built with private money, and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara was 90% privately financed.

“And then I think there was some contagion where around the country people realized these deals could be done well privately and could generate a return on investment to those investors,” said David Carter, a sports business professor at the University of Southern California. “Why are we throwing public money at it at all?”

That’s also a question being asked in Las Vegas, even though the Raiders in 2016 received $750 million from the Nevada Legislature for a stadium. That then was the largest amount of public money for a sports venue, but it was surpassed last March by the $850 million pledged to construct a new stadium for the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Another deal like the one for Allegiant Stadium, where the Raiders play, appears unlikely in Nevada. T-Mobile Arena, which opened in 2017, was privately financed. An arena planned for south of the Las Vegas Strip also wouldn’t rely on public funds.

Las Vegas, however, has shown financing creativity. Its Triple-A baseball stadium received $80 million in 2017 for naming rights from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Room taxes fund the authority, so it was public money in a backdoor sort of way.

Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft, who is on the board of the convention authority, has spoken with A’s representatives about their interest in Las Vegas and said he is aware of the club’s talks with other Nevada officials. He said the A’s are taking a much different approach than the Raiders, who identified Las Vegas early as their choice landing spot after many years of failing to get a new stadium in Oakland.

“When the Raiders decided to come to Las Vegas, they had a clear plan,” Naft said. “You had a clear body that was tasked with assessing the worth and the value, and they committed to the destination. I have not seen that from the Oakland A’s at any level, and it’s not really our job to go out and beg them to come here because we have earned the reputation of the greatest arena on Earth. We have put in both the dollars and the labor to make that the case.

“I think I’ve made myself clear, but from conversations with others, I don’t think I’m alone on that.”

New Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo “will not raise taxes” to attract the A’s or any other team, his spokeswoman, Elizabeth Ray, said in a statement. But she said the club could qualify for other ongoing “economic development programs,” which could mean tax breaks similar to what Tesla received in 2014.

Manfred said in December that the A’s relocation fee would be waived if they move to Las Vegas, a savings to the club reportedly of up to $1 billion.

“We’re past any reasonable timeline for the situation in Oakland to be resolved,” Manfred said then.

Naft said Allegiant Stadium filled a hole that went beyond landing an NFL team. It allowed Las Vegas to attract major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and Final Four and major concerts such as Garth Brooks and Elton John that “in many cases we would not otherwise have.”

He said he doesn’t believe a baseball stadium would accomplish that, and sports economist Victor Matheson agreed.

“I think there’s a real question about how much people are willing to watch baseball in Las Vegas,” said Matheson, a professor at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It’s not like locals don’t have a huge number of entertainment options right now, and it’s not clear exactly how much people might travel to watch baseball in Vegas, either.”

If the A’s truly want to be in Las Vegas, Naft said they need to make that clear.

“I just believe you can’t play destinations against each other,” Naft said. “If you want to come here and you want to be met with open arms, you’ve got to commit.”

Should the A’s fail to reach an agreement in Oakland or Las Vegas, they could consider other destinations such as Charlotte, North Carolina; Nashville; and Portland, Oregon. Whether they would have the time to explore such options is another question.

Oakland has already shown it will watch the Raiders move to Nevada and the Warriors go across the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

Las Vegas, Matheson noted, is hardly in a desperate situation. He also expressed caution that Las Vegas could go from being among the largest metropolitan areas without a major professional sports team to among the smallest with three franchises.

“So you’ve gone from kind of being under-sported to being over-sported in a short period of time if the A’s were to go there,” Matheson said.