1: Televised baseball is not dying.
Several times each year over the past several years, we have been treated to predictions of the demise of baseball in America, and the main proof of that always comes in the form of comparative TV ratings. Just last year, for instance, we were informed that the opening tilt of the Royals-Giants World Series was the lowest rated Game 1 in history. “[The World] Series is on, and everybody is watching … football”, gloated the New York Times headline. Not only that, but more people watched “The Big Bang Theory” and “NCIS: New Orleans” than the World Series, which was outdrawn even by “The Walking Dead”, a cable show about zombies, for crying out loud. In case you were too thick to understand the implication, the Times made it clear in so many words: “Baseball is no longer the center of attention in a new landscape”. Translation: Baseball is dying.
So what are we to make of Maury Brown’s article in Forbes yesterday: that in most of the largest markets in the country, baseball is actually outdrawing the NBA and the NHL in TV viewers? You can see from these ratings in 14 markets from last Wednesday night, when two top NBA playoff games and the NHL’s Rangers-Capitals overtime win competed against the Mets and Cubs on ESPN, that baseball won the night against basketball and football:
Isn’t this going against the narrative we’ve become so accustomed to hearing lately?
Yes, it is, but the thing is that that narrative always contemplates baseball’s national telecasts versus those of the other sports, particularly football, and especially in October. Here is the thing to remember, though: baseball is a local and regional sport. People care about their teams. So when their team is on their local regional network, people will watch those games over playoff games in other sports involving out of town teams. And that’s what we see in the chart above: baseball on regional sports networks beating other sports on the national sports networks.
Granted, none of the markets above had any local teams in the NBA or NHL playoffs, so there was no competition between multiple local teams in different sports in any of these markets. And the NBA and NHL national telecasts did beat the baseball national telecast.
But really, that’s the point: baseball, and all league sports in this country, are a local and regional obsession. People are naturally more interested in their local team than in out of town teams. And people are naturally more interested in playoffs games than in regular season games. If the Mets did not beat the Rangers in New York, or the Braves did not beat the Hawks in Atlanta, that’s really understandable, isn’t it? After all, the Rangers and Hawks are in the playoffs fighting for their lives. In baseball, it’s still mid-May.
But if televised baseball really were dying, it would be losing to televised basketball and televised football every time, regardless of the team involved. That’s the central conceit of the (admittedly strawman) argument. But it doesn’t, because baseball is a local and regional sport, and a thriving one at that.
Just remember the part in italics above next time anyone suggests to you that baseball is no longer important in the “new landscape” of American sports.
2: The potential removal of the MLB blackout restriction took an important step forward on Friday.
Judge Shira Scheindlin, the judge from the Southern District of New York who is hearing the suit against MLB and the NHL brought by a group of fans, has allowed the suit to advance to class action status.
The fans claim that the leagues engage in anticompetitive behavior by forcing out of market fans to purchase a high-priced complete bundle of every game except those involving their local teams, which forces those fans to also subscribe to their local regional sports network through a cable or national provider in order to be able to see their local teams, which from the plaintiffs’ view must be the worst of both worlds. This circumstance mainly hurts the fan choosing to see their baseball on MLB.TV who, unless they are smart cookies, may never be able to see their local team on TV while they’re at home.
By allowing the suit to be heard as a class-action suit, fans can now fight the leagues in court collectively rather than on an individual basis, which makes it easier and cheaper for the plaintiffs to pursue the suit at all. The plaintiffs are seeking lower prices for streamed games resulting from greater competition; to be able to pick and choose which out of town teams whose games they want to purchase rather than buying a bundle; and to be able to watch their local teams via streaming.
This is a fairly slow moving case that will probably take a period of time measured primarily in years to resolve, but the suit is moving apace.