Christine Brennan of USA Today writes about how bad it is that a midseason NFL game got higher ratings than a postseason baseball game on Monday night:
There’s no better example of baseball’s problems than what happened Monday night. Going head to head with a midseason NFL game, MLB gave it its best shot: Game 3 of the series to end all series, the Boston Red Sox-New York Yankees American League Division Series from Yankee Stadium, tied at one game apiece . . . So, the comparative ratings? The baseball game, which turned into a 16-1 Boston rout, attracted 4.41 million viewers. The football game, also a blowout, a 43-19 Saints victory notable for Brees’ all-time NFL passing yards record and nothing else, averaged 10.6 million viewers.
MLB’s masterpiece was pummeled by a run-of-the-mill NFL game.
I was as dumbfounded as you were when I read that. No, not at the ratings thing because everyone knows that the NFL gets higher ratings than baseball, always, and it’s the epitome of non-news to note it. No, I was dumbfounded that USA Today continues to let Brennan write the same damn column year after year.
The NFL was saddled with two of its smallest TV markets when the Tennessee Titans traveled to play the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday Night Football. Against it was crucial Game 3 of the American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium, featuring the loved/despised New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers from the sports-crazed Dallas area.
It didn’t matter. The NFL game, a 30-3 Tennessee blowout, was watched by 7.2% of U.S. households, according to overnight ratings. The baseball game, which turned into an 8-0 Rangers rout only in the ninth inning, was on in 6.5% of homes.
How is this possible?
. . . the Brewers, who drew more than 3 million fans this year while winning the National League Central, were playing at the same time as the Packers. Green Bay’s game against Denver turned into a 49-23 Packers rout. The Brewers also ended up winning big, 9-4, against Arizona. If I had had to guess, I would have said the TV ratings in Milwaukee for the two games would have been about equal, considering the Packers were early in their season, while the Brewers were in a crucial, best-of-five postseason series.
It wasn’t even close. The Packers attracted 44.1% of the households in Milwaukee, the Brewers just 20.3%.
Each time Brennan writes this column she has a different reason for why baseball gets lower ratings. In 2010 she attributed it all to baseball not having instant replay. In 2011 it was because of the odd start times and channels for playoff games. Today it’s because the games are too long. Shockingly, her explanations for baseball’s lower TV ratings tend to correspond with whatever criticisms she currently has about the state of baseball.
In none of her columns, however, does she state the simple truth of the matter: the NFL is a national sport/TV product in which its teams play only once every week in nationally-televised broadcasts while baseball is largely a regional one in which fans of teams who are not in the postseason have little desire to watch non-local teams with which they are unfamiliar. Between that, and (a) the undeniable fact that football is simply more popular across the board; and (b) the baseball games she mentions are broadcast on cable networks with far less reach than the networks on which the NFL appears, it would be really big news if a postseason baseball game got higher ratings than any NFL game. When, as is almost always, always the case, that does not happen, it is the definition of non-news.
Acknowledging that is not super convenient for Brennan, of course. For one thing, it totally kills the conceit one finds in many of her other baseball columns that baseball now is supposed to be like the baseball of her idealized youth: a true national pastime, both popular and pure. And if you doubt the “pure” part just take a look at some of her PED columns in the past in which she literally asked how parents are supposed to explain Jhonny Peralta — yes, Jhonny Peralta! — taking PEDs to their children. The only reason she didn’t include the phrase “say it ain’t so” is, presumably, because it does not rhyme with “Jhonny.” In other news, if you find a single parent or kid, anywhere, who genuinely gave a rat’s butt about the state of Jhonny Peralta’s moral character in the 2013 playoffs, I’ll give you a crisp $100 bill.
All that being said, I suspect the bigger problem to her acknowledging the actual reasons why the NFL and MLB get the sort of ratings they do is that doing so would kill an evergreen column idea, forcing her to write things about baseball that do not involve how it has gone to hell since her childhood.