The Baseball World Series Is a Regional Event: So What’s Wrong with that?

The 2014 World Series between San Francisco and Kansas City is underway. Outside of Kansas City and San Francisco does anyone care? In the locker room at my workout facility in Cheshire, Ct. I asked several people two questions. Have you watched any of the World Series games? Are you interested in who wins the World Series? The people I talked to were either Yankee, Red Sox, or Mets fans. The vast majority said they may watch a couple of games but really weren’t interested in the outcome.

With San Francisco defeating Kansas City 7 to 1 in a non-action blowout, TV viewers didn’t tune in or tuned in but did not stick around. The overnight TV rating for Game 1 was 7.3 drawing 12.2 million viewers. That’s way down from last year’s 9.4 for Game 1 of the Red Sox-Cardinals Series. In fact the 7.3 is the lowest rating ever for any Game 1 of any World Series. The previous lowest overnight rating for a Game 1 was an 8.8 in 2012 when the Giants met the Tigers. Game 2 of the World Series stayed close deeper into the night, boosting television ratings. The 7 to 2 Kansas City victory saw a 6% increase in TV ratings to 7.9 which translates to 12.9 million viewers. Before cheering for this increase realize that the 7.9 rating is the second worse Game 2 rating in World Series history.

Other evidence of the shrinking popularity of baseball is the Giants have played in two of the three lowest rated and least-viewed World Series ever. Their 2012 sweep of the Tigers ranks dead last with a 7.6 average rating, and their five-game win over the Rangers in 2010 is tied for second worse with an average rating of 8.4.

Do these lower ratings for the Fall Classic mean baseball is continually losing its popularity? Should we now call football our National Pastime? After all the Super Bowl each year is a national event with ratings near a 40.0, over 5 times the ratings of the first game of the 2014 World Series. World Series television ratings have been in a well-documented decline for years.

Because of shrinking TV ratings, baseball pundits are declaring baseball must make many changes to stay relevant. While I agree that baseball must make changes, Michael Gee presented an interesting argument that says national TV ratings aren’t important to baseball.

Gee argued the use of national TV ratings to compare the World Series to the Super Bowl and MLB baseball to NFL football is wrong because they are different kinds of television shows generating two entirely different revenue streams. He equates football to a long-running broadcast network national hit and baseball to a local, not national, cable hit. Even though baseball has a national TV deal which provides $50 million annually for each of its 30 franchises; it really is not the major source of income for most of the baseball franchises. It’s one-third the revenue garnered from Red Sox ticket sales; its one-fifth of what the Dodgers got from their cable agreement with Time Warner. Teams like the Yankees and Red Sox that own their own cable networks do even better.

Baseball’s appeal is local, not national. The TV rating for Game 2 in Kansas City was an enormous 49.6, which is at the Super Bowl level. Baseball economics explains why a World Series which includes the Yankees or Red Sox would have much higher ratings.

Baseball fans root hard for their local team. A loyal Yankee fan like myself will watch almost every one of the Yankee games on the Yankee YES cable network. Yes, I will watch most of the World Series games. But if it is Sunday afternoon and my Yankees aren’t playing in the World Series; I would watch the football Giants instead of the World Series.

Since Major League baseball adopted their local cable model, giving up trying to emulate the NFL national network model, it has never been more profitable.

Original Comments:

Nikolai said…

I agree. The Yanks had a good season. Even if you think they under-achieved, they were much better than 1 standard deviation below expectations. It was not one of the great Yankees teams going into the season: most of the established regulars are past prime. Yet they still tied for the best record in the American League.

October 28, 2012 03:23:08

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