All I Want Is Some Truth!

Anyone who has listened to the radio, watched television or read a newspaper during an election year knows they’ll see or hear it at least once: the political ad that shows what an uncaring, mean so and so my opponent is because he or she supported or didn’t support this cause during this vote. Needless to say, if one takes some time to take a look at things more in context, they’ll find that maybe that mean uncaring so and so supported or didn’t support that cause because in doing so, they could also be voting for raising the debt ceiling by $5 trillion dollars or voting to downsize the military by three million soldiers.

Sometimes you have to train yourself to look at things in context. It’s easy to take things at face value but sometimes you have to dig a little deeper to find what the story is.

This happens in baseball all the time. For players and management it happens when a contract goes to arbitration. Management says, “Yeah, he hit.320 for the year, but he only hit a buck-50 with runners on third and less than two outs. He’s a bum I tell ya!” Player’s agent counters with, “That buck-50 doesn’t count as much as the .400 OBP he had in the same situation because of all the intentional walks they gave him!” And on and on it goes.

Here’s a particular load of goods we baseball fans have been subjected to for years: Major League baseball is in decline. It’s only the third most popular professional sport. We buy into it completely, having discussions on sports talk radio about how to save baseball, how to get our kids playing baseball again, etc.

Today I read the headline I was expecting to read sooner or later. It called this year’s World Series between the Tigers and Giants the least-watched World Series and later referred to its “record-low rating.” These headlines have pervaded the conversation for years now.

Yes, the headline is accurate. This year’s World Series averaged a little under 13 million viewers per night. That’s the smallest audience since the folks at Nielsen started their People Meter service in 1987.

World Series Ratings 1984-2012

Let’s take this in context, though. Even with a record low rating, it turns out that four of the nation’s top twenty shows for the past week were either World Series games or the World Series pre-game show. Four of the top twenty shows. That’s pretty good.

What many in the media assume is because the ratings have sunk, the interest in baseball is down as well. Again this is not true.

If interest in baseball was so bad, why are record moneys being paid for the local rights to games? The Rangers start on a new $1 billion contract with Fox Sports Southwest in 2014. The Angels recently signed a huge extension with Fox Sports West.

Look at the stadiums. The year I graduated from college, 1978, a team that drew over 2 million fans was a big deal. Of the 26 teams in MLB that year, the LA Dodgers drew over 3 million fans.  Another 5 teams drew over 2 million. Six teams didn’t even manage to get a million fans through the turnstiles on the season.


In 2012, every team in baseball drew at least 1.5 million fans. 23 out of 30 teams drew over 2 million fans. Nine teams drew over 3 million. Does that sound like diminishing interest to you?

The NFL’s Super Bowl gets monster ratings every year because it’s a one game do or die. It will always outrank the World Series, the NBA Finals and the Stanley Cup Finals for this reason alone. A one and done will beat a best of seven every time. 

I can think of one other good reason for lower TV ratings for the World Series. Unlike the NFL, which has truly become national in the way every team is presented, baseball is very much a local market sport throughout the regular season. Just about every team has a TV contract that let the home fans view just about every game of the season. The “national” games on Fox aren’t really national. They show different games in different regions of the country. Unlike the NFL, baseball fans want to see “their” team. Once their team is out of contention, they often stop watching. I’ll even admit to not seeing more than three innings total of this year’s World Series myself.

Maybe ratings are in decline. But the Series is still one of television’s most-watched shows every year when it’s on. And the TV ratings do NOT correlate with a diminishing interest in the game. It just ain’t so.