“No one cares about baseball”

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The video at the top of this article from Yahoo Finance features Business Insider’s Henry Blodget arguing that baseball’s ratings are low because baseball is too slow and 19th century and boring, the games are too long and that there is too much down time. Contrast that, he says, to the action-packed NFL.

Which is pretty hilarious when you remember that NFL game broadcasts are just as long — often longer — than baseball broadcasts and that if you take away all of the standing around, there is around 11 minutes of actual action in a football game and 14 minutes of action in a baseball game. Plus, as I’ve argued in the past, much of the “standing around” part of baseball is actually overestimated and, in fact, should be considered part of the action, which would vastly increase that 14-minute number. But let’s be realistic here: it’s Henry Blodget and he has a bit of history of bending the facts for his own purposes, so it’s not like he’d admit that even if he knew it.

I’ll give credit to the host of that video segment for pushing back, however, both on the action level in baseball and on the overall trends in baseball TV ratings. He seems to get it, and the article accompanying the video makes a pretty fair case about how and why we are where we are with baseball in the public consciousness.

I will take issue with one assertion, however:

This secular challenge of trying to gain notice in a crowded field of on-demand viewing, copious entertainment options and a fragmented audience pool is one Major League baseball needs to get serious about addressing. It’ll take more than a blue-ribbon commission about forcing pitchers to deliver the next pitch a few seconds faster.

Major League Baseball’s dirty secret — though it’s less “dirty” than “smart,” even if they’ll never admit to it — is that they don’t really mind if they don’t “gain notice in a crowded field” like that. Sure, they’d love it if it happened, but MLB has, shrewdly in my mind, decided that if it can’t be a national consensus like football, it will maximally exploit that fragmentation and make a lot of money off it. The reason Fox has launched Fox Sports 1, for example, is to take advantage of that fragmentation. It willingly overpaid MLB for the right to put playoff games there in order to boost the fledgling network. If MLB cared about mass appeal over the bottom line, it’d offer the World Series to all of the networks for free. Everyone would watch then! It prefers to take the billions from cable companies, however.

Baseball will always claim, for political and traditional purposes, that it is the National Pastime. It has proceeded, however, as if it is aware that that title is both in the past and of almost zero utility to it as a going concern. Frankly, it’s a pretty smart play.