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?