By In Stuff

Ratings and pastimes

The U.S.-Portugal game drew an astonishing 24.7 million people, when you add together the people who watched on ESPN and the people who watched on Univision. Throw in the people who watched the live stream, the number shoots to about 26 million. That is just about how many people watched the BCS National Championship game last year. It’s pretty remarkable.

Of course, it’s easy to make too much of this. USA-Portugal was something of a perfect storm. The game was on Sunday at 6 p.m. — the PERFECT time for high ratings. The game was so important because of the United States’ stunning victory over Ghana a few days earlier. And the World Cup only happens every four years — so this was a rare, rare event. This is not to downplay the hugeness of the audience, — it was huge — but the reason it drew the same numbers as the BCS National Championship is, at least in part, because this year featured a blah BCS National Championship between Florida State and Auburn. When Texas and USC played in the Rose Bowl, 10 million more people watched.

One thing that I fully expected was for people to start comparing these ratings to the World Series. That usually happens whenever people want to make the point of how much the NBA is growing or how dominant the NFL is getting. And, on command, it did happen. Well, sure it did, the comparison is too juicy. This was the largest audience ever to watch a soccer game in America and, since 2005, only one World Series game — Game 7 of the 2011 World Series between Texas and St. Louis — has had an audience close to what USA-Portugal garnered. Since the World Series went to FOX in 2000 only one series — the 2004 Red Sox finally breaking the curse series — averaged 25 million viewers.

Here are the average audience numbers since the 1994 strike (by millions):

A lot has been said and written about the dwindling World Series ratings and what they tell us about baseball in America. Like with the USA-Portugal game, you can make the World Series ratings say more or less what you came in already believing. For instance, if you think baseball is out of touch with America, you can say the clearly ratings show that. Look how they have dropped!

If you think baseball has become more or less a regional game, you can show that with the numbers.

If you think the numbers are just an indication that we’ve had pretty lousy and uncompetitive World Series lately, hey, you can say that too … the last time a World Series went to a Game 7, about 25 million people watched.

If you think the baseball season is way too long and the extra playoff games take away the specialness of the World Series, well, there’s evidence of that too. From 1984-1993 — before there was the wildcard round of playoffs — the World Series averaged a staggering audience of more than 31 million per game. That was the AVERAGE. The 1986 Game 7 between the Mets and Red Sox drew a crazy 55 share — something close to 60 million viewers — and that wasn’t even the record. In 1980, Game 6 between the Royals and Phillies drew a SIXTY share. True, there weren’t any choices back then but still those are crazy numbers.

Since 1994 — the strike, the addition of the wildcard, the PED stuff and so on — the World Series averages about 19.6 million viewers. That’s a lot of people but it’s way down — almost 40% down. Remember when I said that the 1984-93 games averaged 31.4 million? Since the strike not even one World Series game has drawn that big an audience.

I suspect none of these factors is the defining one, though. I think this is probably due, as much as anything else, to a cultural shift. We have changed the way we watch television. We have changed the way we watch baseball. We have almost unlimited choices these days — both on television and with baseball viewing — and so the World Series numbers go down.

I do think about one other factor, one I don’t hear too many people talking about. It seems that as a country we now demand EVENT television. We want one show, one night, everything at stake. The Super Bowl. The Academy Awards. Game sevens. Even the television series we generally watch like Scandal or Game of Thrones often have that “if you miss tonight’s show, you will regret it for the rest of your life” vibe. Heck, if you miss a Game of Thrones, seven of your favorite characters might have been killed off.

Sunday’s World Cup game had that now-or-never energy — if the U.S. had lost to Portugal their chances to advance would have been pretty slim. It really fit perfectly into the American mood.

Baseball almost never has that one game. The sport just isn’t geared that way. I can come up with dozens of scenarios where a World Series game would draw 35 or 40 million people, but they probably won’t ever happen. Say it’s a Game 7 between the Dodgers and Orioles. Say Yasiel Puig had done some sort of crazy Puig thing in Game 6 — he hit a 500-foot homer and danced the Mambo around the bases while glaring at Buck Showalter. Say Showalter after the game said the Orioles had something special lined up for Puig. Yeah, the ratings for that game would be INSANE, they would lap the World Cup game. Or say Clayton Kershaw is going for his third straight no-hitter. Or say that Nelson Cruz has homered in seven straight at-bats.

But baseball just doesn’t have that sort of one game drama very often. The game isn’t built for one-game drama. It’s not really built for playoff drama — something that I think Bud Selig and others have missed. Baseball is about 162 games. Baseball is about seeing the game in person. Baseball is drawing SEVENTY-FIVE million fans over its very long season — compared to 16 million NFL fans per season, 22 or so million NHL and NBA fans, Minor league baseball as a whole draws 40 or so million people too.

Baseball is about nightly television audiences in 30 cities and their surrounding areas. Baseball is about that extraordinary app that takes you to any game at any time. Baseball is about familiar voices performing as background music at barbecues or taking people on their commutes to work or along errands or over family vacations. There are things I think the lords of baseball could do to make the game more national, more of a television event, but I suspect everyone is making too much money at the moment to worry about it.

All of which is to say: The World Cup audience was staggering and wonderful. The response to the Premiere League this year was something of a revelation. Soccer is a very much a part of the American landscape now and it will only continue to get bigger, and that is fantastic because it’s a wonderful sport. But let’s not bury baseball just yet.

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112 Responses to Ratings and pastimes

  1. Blake says:

    There’s really no need to compare the two. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event in the world. Increasingly Americans have discovered that. That doesn’t mean baseball isn’t also great and popular.

    Now focus on getting to the round of 16.

  2. Matt says:

    Not your best effort, Joe. It’s about trends, obviously. Yes, the rarity of the WC matters, but whether you’re talking UEFA matches, or the EPL or the World Cup, or even the Euros, ratings are climbing higher and higher, even as the ratings for every other sport goes down. The attendance figures are of course silly, simply because there are SO many MLB games. Heck, I don’t bemoan anyone liking baseball, but it’s slowly shifting from the top national sport to a niche sport. Demographics do win out.

    • jposnanski says:

      Matt, this is EXACTLY the sort of thing I was referring to when talking about making the numbers match up to the preconceived thoughts. Yes, the ratings are up. Yes, soccer is growing at a wonderful pace … and I couldn’t be happier about that. But MLB will make $9 billion in revenue this year. Niche sport … no.

      • And that is MLB. It doesn’t count minor league baseball, college baseball etc. Tomorrow night, I am taking the family to an independent league baseball game. There will be 2000 people in the stands on a Tuesday night. To look at TV ratings may be the worst way to measure the popularity of baseball.

      • DjangoZ says:

        Alright, $9 billion is alot of cheddar. But maybe some of us just wish it would die anyway.

        Nothing wrong with hoping, right?

        I watched alot of baseball when I was young, went to two world series games in Minneapolis (which were fantastic!), know more baseball stats from the 70s/80s/90s than I care to admit, but I cannot stand the game now.

        Utterly boring, wayyyyy too many games, no salary cap, etc.. And now I’m an adult with alot more choices (EPL online, UFC PPVs, NBA league pass, etc.) and I find that other sports are so much more rewarding.

        So can you kindly keep those facts to yourself and let the rest of us toast baseball’s imminent demise? 🙂

      • BIP says:

        How much of that revenue is because they play 2430 games a season? Would the NFL somehow only make $9B if they could play that many games?

    • Paul Zummo says:

      The “so many games angle” also doesn’t work, because average attendance is also up.

  3. spencersteel says:

    Bury baseball? The game generated $9B in revenues last year – it has NEVER been stronger than it is at this very moment.

  4. Merle says:

    This is a pretty defensive post that actually makes a compelling case that baseball is no longer a meaningful sport in terms of generating national television interest. Like Joe, I also think that’s fine and that baseball’s ability to generate hundreds and hundreds of hours of (typically regional) television content is why the sport is financially secure and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

    I take it then that this post was generated by Joe feeling cheesed off that the high World Cup ratings were being used to make baseball look bad. (I notice he does not take issue with the New York Times comparing the ratings of the Portugal game to the NBA or the NHL.) So, I guess point taken. There is still a lot about baseball that’s great. But soccer is a growing sport that I believe will eclipse baseball in this country within a generation.I take it that Joe would like those of us that feel this way to get off his lawn.

    • jposnanski says:

      I must have not written this the way I wanted to because that is most certainly NOT how I feel. I would be perfectly happy if soccer passed baseball as an American sport — I thoroughly enjoy soccer and love writing it. I just don’t think people appreciate the stronghold baseball has on America’s consciousness.

      • For what it’s worth, I absolutely did not get anything like the sense that Merle got from it. I thought you were clear in saying that you like soccer and re fine with its growth but that baseball is more popular than that facile ratings comparison makes it appear.

      • Spencer says:


        Don’t worry Joe that’s not how I (and probably most others) read it

        You most certainly didn’t seem “cheesed” off

      • Merle says:

        I just think the article isn’t taking a shot a baseball. There is no suggestion that the sport is in decline. It was actually a pretty clinical comparison of the ratings against the other major sports in the US. If the article takes a position it’s that soccer is ascendant and moving into the company of “elite” events like the World Series. So the extended defense of baseball comes off as defensive in the absence of anything that could be described as “burying” baseball. If anything, it’s you who go out of your way to explain why the ratings the Portugal game got were an anomaly.

        And as someone who enjoys soccer and your writing, it is hard to discern that you “enjoy soccer and love writing it.” On the blog, since the World Cup started, you’ve had six posts about baseball (including timely takes on Pete Rose and Barry Bonds) against just one post about soccer.

    • Joe Jones says:

      There is no way that my children’s generation will follow soccer more closely than baseball. That’s an outrageous claim completely unsupported by any evidence. I say that as a soccer fan.

      • Dave Carter says:

        … but many more parents’ children will/do follow soccer. It’s not an anti-baseball thing. But it’s most definitely a thing.

        • SiltShaker says:

          Dave, I, along with many of friends when I was a kid over 3-4 decades ago, played soccer extensively. Just like kids today! And do you know what that did for the popularity of soccer? Absolutely nothing! Kids in the U.S. have been playing soccer for a long time. Then they grow up and toss it aside, and embrace the traditional American sports. It’s as time-honored an American tradition as eating Cracker Jack at a baseball game.

          So no, it’s not a thing. Just because kids do something when they’re young doesn’t mean they’ll keep doing it as they get older. Take all that nonsense about demographic change paving the way for a growing acceptance of soccer. More Latinos in this country bringing their love of soccer here should mean future generations will be soccer fanatics, right? Except that’s not how it works. The first generation, the initial immigrants – they obviously love soccer. But their children are born HERE, in the United States! And what do they grow up with? Football, baseball, basketball, even hockey! If there’s a sport that Latinos flock to in the United States, it’s not soccer – it’s baseball! A sport with a HUGE Latino presence and demographic following it! Which goes to show you that demographics are not destiny. People have been calling soccer the “sport of the future” for more than a century now. And they’ll keep calling it that, because soccer’s potential always lies in the future, never in the present.

      • DjangoZ says:

        I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’m sure it will happen.

        We’ve had lots of false starts on the soccer front, but it seems like it is finally pushing past a big hurdle right now.

        • Darrel says:

          Couldn’t disagree more. Americans seem to like to savour the moment, to anticipate. Bases loaded 3-2…here’s the pitch. 4th and one at the goal line QB under centre. The freeflowing, anything can happen at seemingly random moments sports have never drawn huge American audiences. Just ask the NHL. Don’t see that changing in favour of the next Nil-Nil draw in regular season MLS action.

        • SiltShaker says:

          Things that are said just like that rub me the wrong way. “I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’m sure it will happen.” And why are you sure? Can you see the future? Just because a few soccer games drew an audience for a specific event does not mean soccer has arrived in the United States. At best, soccer might earn the relevancy to the American sports landscape that the Olympics does. It won’t get farther than that, though. Man, I remember people saying 20 years ago that soccer would be one of the big sports in this country. And 20 years before that, they were saying the same thing. Now what are soccer fans saying today? “In 20 years, soccer will be one of the big sports in the United States!” Same old, same old. Excuse me if I don’t take your soccer triumphalism seriously.

      • Rob Jones says:

        I’d say the claim that will not happen is the outrageous claim.

    • SiltShaker says:

      Merle, it’s soccer fans like you in the United States that make me loathe the game. Especially when you say nonsensical things like “soccer will eclipse baseball in this country within a generation.” I’ve been hearing that nonsense from soccer fans like you for decades, and it never happens. You’ve been saying it so long, you’re basically like a broken record at this point. Baseball is a time-honored American tradition with roots in this country that go back into the 19th century. It’s the great American pastime. It could never, EVER, be eclipsed by soccer. Not in a generation, or 10 generations. And no, just because you believe it will, doesn’t make it so.

  5. Jeff says:

    I guess I don’t understand the comparing Sport A vs. Sport B. In this case it is MLB vs. the World Cup. All spring here in Minneapolis it was hockey fans claiming how their sport is so much better than the NBA.

    Maybe I’m weird. I like all kinds of sports. I like baseball, I like soccer. I like the NHL and the NBA.

  6. HH says:

    Seconding Blake, no real reason to compare a month-long event to a 6 month marathon, much like there’s no reason to compare NBC’s lowly-rated but quality comedies to their weeklong special event ratings monsters.

    In the longer run, there’s no reason to believe these two cannot both grow. I assume soccer will grow faster, given a lower base and favorable demographic trends, but population and wealth grows create a bigger group of people looking for sports entertainment. There’s no need to believe that the growth of one will take away from the other.

  7. Richie says:

    I’ve posted this before, if mlb does all or some of the following, the sport would grow nationally and globally.
    1-shorten the length of the season by bring back scheduled sunday doubleheaders
    one home and one road vs division foes
    all b4 july 31st – save up to 8days on the season
    monday off days afterwards
    2- sept call ups- bring as many as u want up but must set daily 25man rosters
    3- every team givs up 3home games each years
    to play 6 out of town games-3 as designated home team, 3 as road team
    in u.s. and north america cities/regions w/o a mlb team… i.e. montreal, north carolina, nola, oaklahoma city, portland, vegas, mexico, p.r., d.r., etc etc…
    4- every 4th year (in the year b4 the world baseball classic) have a 154 game season (8less interleague games), and instead of playing out of town north american game, they play 6 global games, preferbly during the allstar break( skip the allstar game, but still name an allstar team) or if need be at start of season – in europe asia australia and south america in wbc countries like japan, china, brazil, venezeula + hawaii
    by making westcoast teams go to asia/hawaii/aus… east coast go to europe, central teams go to south america
    5- have a more even schedule,instead of 19games vs div teams, 6each vs outta div teams and the rest vs interleague…14 games vs div = 56g, 9vs outta div games = 90g (alternate homefield advantage, team a 6home 3road 1year vs team b one year and vice versa the following yr), and 6 vs interleague
    6- p.e.d.’s – caught once = suspended for a year and rest of contract is void.
    caught twice =life… teams donate the 1 year suspension salary to a central fund that goes to youth baseball charities around the country… i.e. highshcools, little league, boys n girls clubs, ymca etc etc…
    to keep owners honest from going on whichhunts to get out of bad contracts- if a player has more then 1yr left on his contract, the team pays 50cents on the dollar (10m max, 3yr max) of players contract to the charities….also all contracts stay on teams payroll for luxury tax/shared revenue purposes
    7-promote baseball to youth
    -by having all teams donate a minimum of a 100 tickets per home game to kid charities mentioned above
    8-b/c every team gets sweetheart stadium deals, and b/c fans turn a blind eye to these deals, and tv/cable charges every a fee to carry the games reguardless if u like baseball or not, and since all players ultimatly are payed by all of the above…
    -charge a 1 dollar service fee to every ticket sold, owners have to match, so does the team cable provider… players donate 1pct of there yeary salary.. so if the yanks sell 3million tix and have a team payroll of 200mil this year, thats 3mil each from fans/owners/tv and 2mil from players =combine 11mil…. all prceeds go to local yout baseball
    9- fight the union- theres nothing worse then for a team/fan base to lose homegrwn superstars (and w/ all the money teams make 75m per yr from mlb internet sales b4 even selling 1 ticket or getting tv money) theres no reason why a team cant pony up to sign there own…. if a 1st time free agent signs w/ a new team, contracts are only guaranteed for a max of 5 yrs… teams can still sign players to longer term contracts but only the 1st 5 yrs are guaranteed, after that whatever remaining years become mutual 1 year options… if a player plays x amount of games, year 6 becomes guaranteed, if he plays x amountin year 6, yr 7 becomes guaranteed and so on… if a great player who warrants a 5+ yr deal wants out of his original teams city that bad… thats the risk he has to take
    10- nomore international draft… all foriegn players under the age of 23 come to states and go into the following junes draft …all players 24yrs or older are free agents… who have to donate 20pct of whatever contract they sign to youth chaities in there home country
    11- make it part of every players, coaches, gm, owners contract have to sign 10 baseball related items per home game, to randomly be given out to fans every game i.e. basrball cards, 8x10photos, baseballs…. maybe do a cross promotion w/ topps, hand out the items during the 7th inning stretch = gives fans incentive to stay late even in blowout games.
    12- make the game faster
    -home plate ups carry a buzzer on them, once he throws the ball back to the pitcher… the buzzer beeps after 20 seconds, batters have to be in the box, itcher on the rubber… then beeps 10secs later… if players arent in position, either the batter gets charged a strike or pitcher charged a ball…
    get caught x amount of times and offending players, manager and team get fined
    – instant replay = 5th umpire in a tv room or in office somewhere offsite like in hockey reviews all disputed calls = umps stay on field
    -no more then 3 catcher pitcher mound conferences per inning
    -pitching changes – manager has to signal for new pitcher b4 crossing the foul line, each additional pitching in a given inning, the rp has to be ready to go= no warmup pitchers and no commercial break
    13- new rules
    1 intentional walk per game, any additional ibb = 2bases,
    – new stat = infraction for all nonerror misplays, ball drops between 2or more players, base running mishap, dont hustle outta the box and end up w/ a single instead of a 2b, throw to the wrong base etc etc, u get charged an inf.
    -ground rule doubles – umps discretion on if the baserunner scores or not

    • puckpaul11 says:

      just make the game faster. Watching games has become interminable and thus you might only endure it in its entirety if its a game 7. i loved watching the 1969 world series reruns on the Mets cable station as the games took two hours! even though i knew who won and most of the key plays. just watching the pitchers grab the ball and throw, and not having the interminable analysis of every pitch. love the game , but its exhausting to watch now. Still foliow it closely but its background noise many times.

      Soccer has a distinct advantage….no time outs, no TV replays, just a beautiful pulse and rhythm. even if its very boring at times, its over in two hours. baseball used to be more like that for me. you go to a game, there wasn’t the incessant noise and music, you were allowed to just relax and enjoy the ballgame and ballpark. talk to your friends. our culture has ruined many live sporting experiences.

      • otistaylor89 says:

        I agree, it’s all in the time it takes to play these games. You could do all the other stuff, but if you got the average time of game back down to 2-2 1/2 hrs it would bring back views more than all the other stuff combined. You are asking a lot of the public to consistently follow a team when each game of 162 takes over 3 hours. As a Red Sox fan in the 70’s, I used to watch or listen to nearly every game – full games.
        Of course, MLB will never allow the big time eater to be corrected because of money – the between inning crap.

    • Are you writing the constitution? That’s a lot of rules and too much “required” charity. But some good suggestions nonetheless.

    • Merle says:

      Whether these suggestions are good or bad (and they are mostly bad) they are all completely implausible. Also, why would you encourage a fight with the union? You make the point yourself that all these teams have enough money to sign their own homegrown talent. Why is it necessary then to artificially restrict how much a player can earn?

  8. Jim says:

    I find it humorous that someone would accuse Joe of being a grumpy old man who resists soccer’s growing popularity when regular readers know he is very much a soccer fan and supportive of the sport. I, however, am the grumpy old man and would rather watch the Royals than soccer any day.

    • bpdelia says:

      Yeah I’m sorry but no. In a38 year old hipster (black rimmed glasses, body literally COVERED in tattoos, been in some very large touring bands etc, and amongst my peers it’s quite hip to love soccer and look down on the other big sports but I don’t get it. I love sports. Played at a high level in two of them and appreciate athletic excellence the sans way I appreciate artistic excellence and soccer is easily the most boring sport on the planet. I basically lost interest in hockey, which I played in high school and a year in college, when the neutral zone two sucked the life from it. People call baseball boring but a 1- score is insanely rare. I keep trying but it’s simply an inferior game. The athletes are sublime but…. In my 90th effort to enjoy this sport my wife and I recently watched two matches. One a 1-0 affair of unimaginable tedium and the other a 0-0 draw.

      My wife with an extremely casual enjoyment of sports but who innately gets what is out is not exciting, at the end turned to me and said, “what the hell was the point! They literally could have NOT played and it would have been exactly the same!”

      Like her I have a visceral hatred of ties. Life is chock full of gray areas and draws. Sports is my venue for closure.

      So very boring. So little happens and seeing as how there are millions of options for my entertainment, from music to film to sports I just can’t see why anyone would choose soccer.

      • bpdelia says:

        Lots of autocorrect induced typos there but my point stands

      • Guest says:

        This sounds like it was written in 1993.

        • Darrel says:

          Gawd I hate that kind of attitude. For soccer fans it seems if you watch it and don’t like you are somehow lesser than. I find it unfathomably dull. My brother-in-law who is Serbian insists that it isn’t boring and I just don’t understand. He is wrong. I understand that watching 5 guys roll a ball back and forth in an umbrella shape for minutes at a time while the rest of the players stand and watch is nothing but excruciating to watch.

          • bpdelia says:

            Exactly thank you. I mean I tried watching a game but just couldn’t understand it’s intrinsic beauty so I figured I’d just switch over to the kardashians! I guess one needs to have fully appreciated the complete works of Schopenhauer to get the game. I thought that because I’d finished Plato and and Kant I’d be okay but turns out those guys were posers. Oh well better get to the library!

  9. I can only speak to my viewing habits. I rarely watch the World Series anymore because the games are on late and I get sick of watching players adjust their batting gloves to the tune of a 4 hour game. I work, and I can’t hang past midnight to watch a glacial paced game.

    I’ve been interested in this World Cup because, so far, the games have been exciting and not 0-0 snoozefests…. AND the games are ALWAYS 90 minutes, plus maybe 5-10 minutes of stoppage time and a short halftime. My time investment is under two hours. When I started watching baseball, games were about 2 1/2 hours. Games often started at 8:00 and ended by about 10:30. If you went to the game, you could come home from work, eat dinner, go to the game and be home by 11:00. That doesn’t work anymore and I just don’t want to do it.

    • NBA FInals starts at 9, except for the Sunday games that start at 8, take it you don’t watch that?

    • bpdelia says:

      Now that’s a legitimate strike against baseball. It’s still a more interesting game. A greater diversity of outcomes and of events. It’s broken into discrete moments of individual competition. The game itself has issues. While I’m a lover of sabermetric analysis the increase in strikeouts is hurting the game. Games are taking just as long at the mid aughts with much less offense but those are fixable problems.

      Soccer’s boringness is endemic to the game. Its baked right into its fabric. MAYBE if they cut each team in half and played 5 on 5. Maybe. The field is way to big. Too many out of bound plays.

      Basketball is a nearly perfect game (baseball is my great love of course), football was seemingly created for television. Hockey has the same athletes and general rules as soccer except the rink is competitively tiny, there are half as many players, they are moving twice as fast and constantly running into each other. And even the modern game features about ten times as many scoring opportunities per match.

      Soccer is easily behind baseball, basketball hockey tennis football, and quite a few track events. It’s almost certainly behind football and rugby on par with golf, auto sports and second tier Olympic events as a game.

      I’m positive much of the increase Inn soccers popularity here is is association with European sophistication. Which is actually hysterical because the average European or south american soccer fan falls somewhere in that NFL/NASCAR type fan. There because of strange nationalist/regional pride, lots of beer and the very real possibility of spectator fighting.

      • also brian says:

        Don’t forget the overt acts of spectator racism that seem pop up in soccer semi-regularly but which US major league sports has all but eradicated.

        • bpdelia says:

          Ha. Exactly. America has seemingly greatly improved its individual egalitarianism in regards to race while maintaining a systemic racism. Europe has systemically made fantastic strides in egalitarianism while suffering blatant individual racism. Examine European immigration laws. Examine the general tone of that discussion. Interesting. Politically I’d prefer to live in Europe but the difference in demographic diversity in America compared to Europe is stunning. It’s much easier to have conquered racism when your continent is almost exclusively white and everyone is ethically related. The Roma and Basque people’s scoff at Europe’s superior tolerance for ethnic and cultural diversity

  10. The Guvna says:

    While it’s true that there are a variety of reasons for the overall viewership decline of World Series games, there is one particular aspect which columnists always seem gun-shy about mentioning, so please, allow me. The clue can be found in the following sentence: “Since the World Series went to FOX in 2000…”

    The Buck-McCarver broadcasts started off as exercises in mediocrity and got progressively worse from there. The CBS crew which preceded them was no great shakes, either, but if you’re working to return baseball to national prominence in the years following a protracted, devastating work stoppage (to say nothing of wanting to hit the ground running with your new broadcast partnership), you probably want your very best ambassadors of the game calling the crown jewel broadcasts. Joe Buck’s somnambulant, disinterested monotone (and to a lesser extent, Tim McCarver’s increasingly daft and incoherent ramblings) makes baseball seem every bit as exciting as visiting the dentist, without as much upside. Baseball junkies like me would—to paraphrase Pete Rose—walk through hell in a gasoline suit just to watch a game, so we’re a captive audience, of sorts. He’s got us. We hate Buck, but we can’t turn our backs on the goddamned World Series. What of the casual fan, though? Sure, having two distinctly unsexy teams in the Series is going to be an albatross most years, but I’m inclined to think that if, say, Vin Scully were still calling the World Series, it would be a damned sight easier to transmit to the casual fan the sheer joy that we hopeless baseball wonks feel most of (if not all of) the time.

    Put Vin Scully and Jon Miller in the booth for the next Series. If it still doesn’t draw dick by, say, game four, I’ll concede the point…but I really do believe Fox’s decision to have Joe Buck calling their games has played a significant role in the apathy felt by casual fans. As noted by other Brilliant Readers, attendance is good league-wide (gone are the days of widespread four-figure attendance figures in most markets). Local TV deals would seem to suggest very strong regional viewership (again, in most markets). Total revenue is fast approaching the $10 billion mark. Clearly, we’re not talking about a sport in dire straits. If they’d only entrust their premier broadcasts to their premier broadcasters, and not to someone who by his own admission is an NFL guy more or less ambivalent about baseball, I expect the national TV numbers might better reflect the continued popularity of the national pastime.

    • Breadbaker says:

      This was exactly my conclusion, too. It’s not just the announcers, it’s the constant cuts from the pitcher to the batter to some random Fox star in the audience to the nose hairs of the third base coach. They provide “drama”: but provide no information at all about the game. ESPN has finally learned that you just show the freaking soccer match without commercial interruption and the drama will come from the game. I will never forgive Fox for cutting to an interview with Eric Byrne during Ichiro’s inside the park home run in the All-Star Game If you don’t trust your product, the public will not buy it.

    • The Fox broadcast certainly didn’t help me stay awake at 12:30 a.m.

    • bpdelia says:

      Woomp there it is!

  11. spencersteel says:

    My understanding of Joe’s post was that the terrific ratings of yesterday’s game would cause the “end is nigh for baseball” articles (which it did). Just as the World Cup was bound to inspire “soccer is awful” posts from the likes of Dan Shaughnessy (which it did).

  12. Mikey says:

    The NY Times headline is worse than the story, but if you love baseball and you’re tired of the constant bashing of the game and its perceived popularity it’s easy to get into a defensive posture whenever stories like this are written.

    I mean, it would have been just as easy for Carter to write that yesterday’s WC rating demolished last year’s rating for Sunday Night Football on NBC, but that wouldn’t fit with the narrative that the NFL has a Midas touch and baseball is slowly fading away. It does get old (and if you enjoy stories like this about baseball, try following horse racing, an $11 billion sport that we’ve been told is dying for over 30 years). The reality is that thanks to regional cable the average American is watching more baseball now than they did 30 years ago, but good luck getting anyone to acknowledge it.

    The only thing that really bothered me in that article was Carter writing that the Stanley Cup playoffs are “not even remotely as popular as the World Cup” because they only average 5 million viewers, only to later note that the WC to date has averaged….4.2 million viewers. Aye carumba.

    • Merle says:

      You are correct that the headline is “worse” than the story. The article Joe links to says nothing about the decline of baseball or suggests that the sport is in decline. Moreover the article compares the World Cup rating to all the major sports in the US. That’s why I think you are correct that the article comes off as defensive.

  13. Ben says:

    “I can come up with dozens of scenarios where a World Series game would draw 35 or 40 million…” – to be fair Joe, if (instead of an ultimately indecisive regardless of the result middle group game) you make the soccer game in question the World Cup Final against Mexico after the USA have knocked off Messi’s Argentina in the QFs, half-brother Germany in the semis, as an immigration reform bill is presented to the House, the head coaches of each side trash talk each other all week and Clint Dempsey attempts to be the first man in history to score in each game of a World Cup…well, I reckon you’d do a little better than 35 million…

  14. coolromeo says:

    For me, interleague play has made the World Series and the All-Star Game far less of event viewing than when I was a kid. Hardly accounts for dropping viewership but it definitely doesn’t help.

    • I have never understood the criticisms of inter league play. I enjoy watching games across leagues, and it’s so limited that it’s unlikely that the World Series participants will have met during the season.

      • bpdelia says:

        Meh. I like your comments usually but come on Bell. It just interferes with an already someday arbitrary schedule. And now with two wildcards and no strength of schedule aspect to awarding them certain teams get screwed. I don’t hate it. I don’t think it hurts Series ratings but I would prefer it’s elimination and a balanced schedule. But I’m not freaking out over it. I’m just not sure it accomplished what was intended, I don’t think it’s helped market the biggest stars. It’s not like every team gets 3 games featuring Trout in their market every year. In the modern age of MLB.TV I think it’s benefits are outweighed by its competitive disadvantages.

  15. bake mcbride says:

    interesting how the standard complaints about baseball (“it’s too slow, not enough action, not enough scoring”) could also easily apply to soccer.

    • Soccer games are 2 hours…. Every time. Yes, the action can be slow, but so far the World Cup games have been exciting. I worry, though, now that goal differential is no longer a factor that underdog teams will retreat into defensive shells and try to win on PKs. One year in a youth league, the last place team got to the finals in the playoffs by employing this strategy, beating far better teams. My sons undefeated team played them in the finals and was scoreless at halftime. Fortunately the first goal, early in the second half, forced the other team to actually play instead of parking 11 players in their own penalty box. Final score 5-0. If teams employ this strategy, and they will, soccer becomes very boring again.

  16. Marc says:

    I am first and foremost a baseball fan, but I do think that baseball is fading into America’s past – and there are a number of things (some mentioned here) that point to its decline. Bud Selig has his head in the sand, and it may be too late to make changes before real problems set in.

    1. The length of the game, as mentioned above, has gotten beyond tolerable. While at a game, teams do a wonderful job of entertaining the fans. But on the TV? Forget it. Comparatively, a fan watching soccer KNOWS the game will be done in under two hours. And American media has learned it can make money even without breaks – does anyone remember the 1994 World Cup when ESPN would shrink the action so they could advertise during play?
    2. While baseball’s revenues have increased dramatically, their income is highly leveraged. (I can’t find the article right now – I think it was on Forbes) The NFL has increased their media income through contracts with major media companies – and if, for some horrible reason, their ratings tanked, they would still get the income. Baseball on the other hand has gained much of their income through regional sports networks. The money comes from cable companies paying to carry those channels – today, regional sports networks earn the 2nd highest amount per month, next to ESPN. ESPN earns about $8, RSN a little over $2. But what happens should a cable company refuse to carry the channel, citing a lack of interest? The money will disappear.
    3. It isn’t just the World Cup/World Series comparison. The 2013 Gold Cup final outdrew MLB’s Sunday Night Baseball on the same weekend. The Premier League games on NBC (Newcastle United-Man U.) outdrew the Dodgers-Giants game on the same weekend this April.
    4. Things change – in the 1920s, baseball and boxing were the two biggest sports in America. In the 1870s, it was bicycle racing (one of the main reasons the original Madison Square Garden was built). Times changes, and baseball is largely viewed by our youth as being the sport for our grandparents.
    5. Speaking of which, fewer children are playing baseball than 15 years ago. Fewer children can stay up and watch the end of playoff games (not they want to), and in 20-30 years, THEY will be the ones buying tickets to games…or will they? In the last 8 years, baseball attendance has plateaued…and I wonder how much of the increase was generated by the building of new stadiums. With only a new stadium in Atlanta in the near future, I’m not sure that level of attendance can be maintained.

    Maybe I’m a boy crying wolf, but I see a lot of cracks in the “golden age” of baseball revenues.

    • I played baseball when I grew up. All my friends did. We traded baseball cards, played strat-o-matic and had an unhealthy knowledge of obscure stats. My kids quit baseball early and played basketball and soccer….their bodies weren’t built for football. They do like going to baseball games, because of course, the game experience is fun, but they NEVER watch baseball on TV. They watch NBA/college basketball, soccer and some football. That’s pretty common for the younger set, although most watch football more intently than my kids.

      • jacobus says:

        “they NEVER watch baseball on TV.”

        I don’t think the “Baseball is doing great!” people realize how big it is that MLB is almost never on regular TV. The regional sports networks make a lot of money from middle-aged, middle income people who don’t think twice about paying for premium cable or satellite, and they can watch games whenever.

        But for those of us who are trying to save a bit for the kids’ educations and have cut the cable cord, baseball is basically never on tv.

        • bpdelia says:

          Fair enough. There are some easy fixes (though they would require American business people doing actual long term planning) for baseball.

          No weekend night games. 5pm start times. Ratings are low enough that’s it’s pretty clearly driven by FANS not casual NFL style viewers.

          All weekend playoff games given start times between 12 and 4.

          Enforcing a pitch clock.

          There are some more radical possibilities as well.

          Figuring out a way to greatly disincentivize strikeouts.

          But in general leaving some short term ad revenue on the table in exchange for long term growth would be a very prudent idea.

          • also brian says:

            How about no warmup pitches on the actual mound (and thus no commercial breaks) during mid-inning pitching changes? If relief pitchers want to get loose, they can get loose in the bullpen without disrupting the game. Perhaps this will create an incentive against changing pitchers mid-inning as well.

        • puckpaul11 says:

          baseball is all over TV. kids just don’t watch. its not the problem.

          • bpdelia says:

            @also Brian. That’s a DAMN good idea that I’ve never heard before. Great idea. But then you’d lose the riveting experience of the one hour “tony larussa special” half inning! I mean watching the loogy jog in, spend 7 minutes warming up, pitch for 45 second, watch the manger waddle out. Talk for a bit. Signal for the roogy. And repeat is an integral part of the game. You’d have to be willing to deal with the unexpected consequences of making that change

  17. Chris says:

    Unfortunately Marc is right about the ephemeral nature of the stats joe cites in support of baseball’s popularity.

    There are many things baseball has going against it and most have been mentioned in the comments. But how is this for a marketing problem. The best all around baseball player since willie mays is barely a household name.

  18. DjangoZ says:

    It was the second group stage match. Hardly the most compelling WC match imaginable.

    We’ll see what the ratings are for a knockout match (if they make it). But so long as it is in a good time slot I think it would demolish that 24 million number.

  19. here is an analysis of world series ratings discussed in the forums section of Tom Tango’s website,

    if you look at the numbers you will see shows like murder she wrote or golden girl used to routinely beat out the world series. it looks to me like baseball ratings are right where they have always been relative to the competition, its just that ratings are down all over because the audience is so fragmented. the ratings also depend a lot on day-of-week and length-of-series, so just talking about averages is ignoring a lot of context.

  20. Brian says:

    Thank you Marc! I’d add that under Selig the owners have been focused 99% for current revenues/profits and 1% for future fans (meaning kids). Late games, almost no day games, high prices for everything, etc. along with the rest (add numerous points here) have contributed to Joe’s chart which is down nearly 50% in a single generation.

    The commissioner s supposed to be a steward of the game. Sure he must also make it profitable today, but at what expense? Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’ll be happy if I am, but the trend remains and baseball may eventually be a 2nd tier sport behind NFL and college football, then soccer (?).

    I may be in the minority, but I’d much rather see a family friendly minor league game in the day, at a decent price than MLB unless my favorite player/team is around. This is exactly the opposite of when I was a kid and watched every single MLB game that I could possibly watch.

    • also brian says:

      I go to minor league games regularly (mostly Single-A), and there’s a length of game problem there too. There have been several that I’ve been to this year that have eclipsed the three hour mark, even ones that were not particularly high scoring. Everyone’s working the count (thanks Billy Beane), everyone is stepping out of the box between pitches, and all pitchers are taking forever. And you can’t even blame it on commercial breaks.

      When these guys get to the majors it’s only going to get worse.

      • bpdelia says:

        And THERE is the real and nearly unsolvable problem. The increase in selectivity had utterly changed the game. And there is no putting that genie back. Selectivity is a crucial skill and with us rapidly approaching a late 60s early 70s level game imbalance crisis it’s tough to imagine s fix.

        First the ball needs to be juiced up. Second fields need to be way harder to increase the value of speed ground ball hitting players.
        Third the pitch clock MUST MUST MUST begin to be enforced.

        Only problem is pitch click enforcement almost certainly benefits the pitcher more and we are already in an era of extreme imbalance.

        For Aune, and to a certain extent even for me, offense does not equal entertainment. But baseballs most beloved eras are HIGH offense eras. Casual fans do not want to watch pitchers duel.

        And actually the argument for the superiority of the “clean well played games” that ends 2-1 is almost certainly the flip side of the “beautiful game” soccer argument.

        It’s elitism posing as aesthetic preference.

        Sure that meat head over there likes home runs. But I appreciate the game on a mystical spiritual level. He just can’t appreciate the intrinsic beauty of the 2-0 Change up or the intellectual purity of the game within the g game that really shines through in a2-1 battle between ground ball pitchers.

        I can appreciate the beauty of 45 ground outs=in better than you dummy.

  21. here’s a similar chart to what Joe showed,

    the left panel is rating, the right panel is rating divided by rating for the highest rated non-baseball program.

  22. Alejo says:

    This is why I have said, like 1.000.007 times, that doping destroys sports.

    Do you know who big cycling was in Europe? How big is it now? How enthusiastic people are about it? How much do they believe in climbing feats? Every time a guy climbs the Tourmalet people say: he is doped.

    Belief. To believe what you see is real. Baseball had an unreal quality for too long.

    Yes, there are other factors. People who grew up playing football are now adults and pass on the love to their children; baseball is regional and so on but… the dope is there.

    Now imagine what it would do to baseball to put Bonds et al. in the HoF.

    • Doug says:

      It’s strange, in a way, because I think the probability is that most sports have a lot of doping in them. Probably a lot of them have more than cycling or baseball do these days – cycling and baseball have relatively stringent testing procedures in comparison to a lot of other sports. And you see busts in American football, and you see things like Operation Puerto in association football that might lead a reasonable person to suspect there’s doping going on in soccer. And I don’t think there’s anything that intrinsically differentiates soccer or football from any other sport. The opportunity is there, the motive is there, and I think if the experience of baseball and cycling have taught us anything, it’s that when the opportunity and motive are there, people are probably cheating.

      But it doesn’t seem to affect any of those other sports. Whether or not those achievements are real, people enjoy them full-throatedly. Part of it is that baseball and cycling came first, part of it is probably that they had massive blown-up scandals in the press. But it’s a very strange way of thinking.

  23. chlsmith says:

    I don’t see baseball dropping at all. The in-stadium experience is just too good and on radio/TV, it is just on all the time and you can expect it to be there. Every game, minor or major leagues, is AWESOME for families to attend, and tickets can be had for way less money than comparable NBA or NFL tickets.

    I see soccer definitely taking a run at basketball. I’m from Kentucky, where nothing is bigger than the ‘Cats, but let me be clear when I say that I think the NCAA regular season is a waste of time. No one really cares….drop it and put all of the teams into the tourney and be done with it. As far as the NBA is concerned, aside from NY, Boston, and LA, I don’t think anyone gives a darn about it. It might get good ratings for game 7 of the Finals, if it’s Celtics/Lakers, and Kobe is playing through an injury, and Larry Legend decides to come in and shoot three pointers. Hell, they put the regular season on TN-freakin’-T!!!! Would then NFL ever go so far as to put their regular games on the USA Network?????

  24. bl says:

    I don’t know how some simple points are missed in this discussion. What was the rating of the latest MLS championship game? How close to any World Series game (or regular season baseball game) was that? Of course the World Cup gets huge ratings, most of the country is rooting for the same team! Americans haven’t spent 6 months watching matches every day. To compare it to the NBA finals, soccer fans haven’t decided that they hate one of the two teams in the match (the Heat) and don’t want to watch them anymore. They haven’t decided the other team was boring (Spurs) and of no interest. They don’t need to get invested at all in the long term prospect of the team. They only have to watch three of four games over a two week period. That’s it.

    And I am not criticizing the soccer fans at all. I am watching as much World Cup as possible. I’ve watched probably 80% of the games. And there’s no way I will ever watch an MLS or a Premier league game.

    Joe’s right, this is event watching. I watched the US Portugal game in a jam packed bar and 10 minutes after it ended people started asking who won. The large crowds are more about having a party and sharing a group experience than watching soccer. Soccer is a wonderful sport and it absolutely should be more popular, but there is no way it is more popular than baseball right now; and it won’t be in the near future.

  25. likedoohan says:

    The WC is kind of like the NHL’s outdoor games. As a single event the interest and ratings are great, but whether it translates into new fans is pretty questionable. A lot of the big crowds are there because of the media blitz and it’s a trendy thing to do. Also, most popular American sports have lots of breaks and fans really don’t need to pay attention, and I suspect we like it that way. Soccer, like hockey, actually has to be watched closely, which makes it harder to socialize. It is also hard to embrace a sport in which faking injuries (and writhing on the ground while the opposition is trying to score) is considered a legitimate strategy. And, yes, I know flopping occurs in other sports, but it is punished and discouraged.

    • Ed says:

      Flopping is punished and discouraged more in soccer than it is in basketball.

      Soccer absolutely has a flopping problem, but guys can get yellow and red carded for it. And the guys writhing around on the ground are usually ignored unless the ref actually believes there is a real injury — if you’ve been watching the World Cup, play is almost never stopped for that.

      The NBA has surpassed it. It happens CONSTANTLY in the NBA now and it’s hard to watch guys like LeBron and Wade flail all over the place whenever someone touches them (or sometimes doesn’t touch them). Furthermore, there’s zero disincentive in the NBA. The fines are laughable and are hardly ever handed out. The NBA should be MORE like soccer to combat flopping — guys should get called for personal fouls when they are caught flopping.

      The counter-argument is that it’s hard to tell in real time if there was a flop, but the same is true in soccer… which is why guys aren’t carded for it very often. But at least it’s a bigger disincentive than what the NBA currently does.

      • likedoohan says:

        90% of the flops soccer result in the wrong player being disciplined. The rest are appropriate non-calls, and I have yet to see a flopper disciplined. Are you watching? Guys writhe on the ground like they’ve been shot, then pop up and sprint once they realize no call is being made. They don’t care if their lying on the ground triggers a scoring chance for the opposition. It is a mind-set which flies in the face of most Americans. These players would be laughed out of a Pee Wee hockey league. NBA players are fined after video review. Soccer players are not disciplined, but admired for their “gamesmanship”. It makes most of these matches just as unwatchable as NBA. You say fines are rarely handed out in the NBA. What percentage of soccer flops do you see punished? The fact that the NBA has a flopping problem, which they are trying to deal with, does not mean it is not rampant and embarrassing in soccer. The facial expressions of non-injured divers are precious, like toddlers.

        • bpdelia says:

          Yeah but the NBA does have a serious problem as well. The fines need to go away and flopping needs to be a two shot and possession call regardless of whether the team is in the penalty.

  26. thoughtsandsox says:

    Lots of talk about averages. Here are the average per game attendance in 2013 for the “Big 4”:

    NFL = 64,698
    MLB = 30,895
    NHL = 17,455
    NBA = 17,274

    This isn’t money or long season or any of that it is straight how many fans bought a seat. Now the really amazing number nobody mentions is MLS average per game attendance was 18,807. That puts the fan attendance above both the NHL and NBA,

    This World Cup is only going to increase that number. It has taken a long time but the game is really growing in the US.

    • Jeremy Jolley says:

      But 18,807 people at an MLS game is a lot of empty seats. You’d get a lot more basketball (or even hockey fans) if the arenas were bigger. I’m not saying that soccer isn’t growing, I’m just saying that you can’t judge popularity of a sport by the sold out arena holding fewer fans than a football stadium.

      • Ed says:

        I don’t think that’s true.

        Do you really think that if a team thought they could sell 35,000 tickets per game, they wouldn’t build an arena that held 35,000?

        I live in Atlanta now, but I’m from Greensboro, NC — and the Greensboro Coliseum was (it may still be, but I’m not sure) larger than any NBA arena. So it’s not like it would have been incredibly cost prohibitive for them to build a bigger arena was more seats.

  27. wogggs says:

    The World Cup is wildly popular. The fact that it gets great TV ratings for 3 weeks every 4 years does not mean baseball is dead, dying or in decline in this country. In the interim between World Cups, MLS struggles to draw a few thousand fans per game and has very little TV presence. Game reports are relegated to the back of the Sports page. I live in the San Francisco area. I’m not sure if our local team even has a radio contract. Soccer is no threat to the popularity of baseball on the professional level in the US.

  28. Jake says:

    Trying to watch the World Series is brutal if you live in the Eastern Time Zone. The shortest average game time for a world series game in the past 12 years is 3 hours 4 minutes (2006). The longest was 3 hours 45 minutes (2007) – unless you count the 2005 series which averages out to 3 hours, 51 minutes but has an 14 inning 5 hour 41 minute outlier game). In the past 12 years, every single World Series has featured games that went past 11 PM (well past a decent hour to go to sleep for many adults). The EARLIEST a WS game has ever ended in those past 12 contests was at 10:05 PM which is well past the bedtime of my children. At least one game has gone into the AM in nine of the past twelve World Series’ which unless occurring on a Friday or Saturday night is way too late for me to stay up and be able to function at my job the next day. Even if a given series has relatively quick game times, there is still a problem that any game can THREATEN to go into the wee hours of the morning. This keeps me and probably many others from watching. Why watch the start of a game if I’m not going to be able to make it to the ending?

    I don’t have the stats to support this, but I seem to recall being able to watch World Series games to completion growing up as a kid in the 80’s. They must have started earlier, right?

    Now, of course this is a bit east coast centric, but then again there are more people living in the eastern time zone (47% of the US population) than the others. (source:

    This is just one more problem in a huge cluster of problems affecting the WS – many of which are mentioned in other BR posts. I think the posts about the horrendous broadcasts on Fox are part of the problem. The dumbing down of the sport for the “casual” fans turns off us hardcore fans. Not sure if in the end it attracts a net plus of viewers but it sure makes it difficult for me to watch.

    Here’s another. In the same past 12 years, 7 teams have appeared in multiple WS’s (St. Louis, Boston, San Francisco, Detroit, Texas, NY Yankees and Philadelphia). Of the same 12 WS’s, 7 have been won by 3 teams mutliple times: Boston 3, San Francisco 2, St. Louis 2). All the while, fan-bases of teams in markets like San Diego, Seattle, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Toronto and fans of the Mets and Cubs just turn their attention elsewhere.

    • bpdelia says:

      Yup. I’m as huge a baseball fan as any other person and I used to always watch but if my team isn’t in it now I’m asleep. I either need a vested interest or sensible scheduling. We all have jobs and my kids have school. And it’s just not realistic to expect me to invest that time. There is no reason other than the “primetime” reason not to start these games at 7 EST. Prime time used to mean something because you had no damn choice. You had to watch what was on after dinner. With DVRs and Netflix and hulu and a bazillion channels it’s must see EVENTS that are important. People who want to watch the world series are going to watch. People who don’t are not going to be trick/forced into because of scheduling.

      It’s not world series or nothing anymore. It’s world series or literally everything.

  29. Gesge says:

    I’d like to know the TV ratings for the last MLS championship please–as well as finding out what the MLS championship is called and what teams played in that game.

    If the Olympics get great ratings, is that proof that baseball is dying?

    • Sirk says:

      MLS Cup 2013 was the lowest rated MLS Cup in history. Kansas City beat Salt Lake. The combined U.S. viewership (English and Spanish language broadcasts) was a little over one million viewers.

      Attendance and revenues have seen marked improvements over the past several years, but TV ratings are still bad. The league has spent a lot of time building infrastructure and strengthening the quality of play and in-game experience… they are turning their attention toward television. The new TV deals may help, with consistent weekly television windows on ESPN and Fox Sports One. We shall see.

    • Wendell says:

      MLS is in the difficult position of being the third most popular league behind England’s Premier League and utterly crushed by the ratings of LigaMX, the Mexican league. 538 had an article arguing that in terms of revenues and ratings, North America has 5, not 4, big leagues and that that LigaMX and the NHL command the same level of interest in the United States. It’s just that one league has coverage in English, and longstanding interest in major markets like New York, Boston and Chicago, and the other is covered almost exclusively in Spanish for an immigrant and 2nd generation market. Soccer can be a major sport in America without the MLS benefiting all that much from the growing interest. Now MLS teams and the league office are trying like crazy to capture a piece of that growth, and after a disappointing 2013, this year’s TV ratings are up significantly, but it’s still struggling to compete with multiple compelling soccer products. I suspect that their’s no substitute for time in the growth of MLS popularity, as its teams grow in popularity and history, but they’ll be looking for shortcuts wherever they can.

  30. Marc says:

    A few comments here are off-topic (as mine is as well, but I thought it appropriate to mention a few problems baseball has going forward), but I want to add a few more points based on what I’ve read.

    1. Soccer has a flopping problem. So does the NBA. I’ve always thought soccer should have a referee away from the game on a video somewhere who issues all yellow and red cards. The referee on the field is in charge of the flow of the game – the ref in the control room can slow down the action, review it and decide who gets a card, or if it’s warranted. That would stop flopping immediately, especially if the players realized the ref would get it right. FIFA doesn’t want to do this, because they feel ALL leagues, no matter the country or level, should operate under the same rules…and does anyone believe a third division in Mozambique has cameras on the game?
    2. Baseball should not be compared to the MLS – yet, though I suspect it will be in 20 years time. I mentioned earlier that Premier League games from England are starting to have more viewers than the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast. American viewers want to watch the BEST of whatever sport is being played – so they’ll watch the World Cup, and they’ll watch the Premier League.
    3. I forgot to mention about those regional sports networks. They are lobbying like hell to prevent the FCC from “unbundling” packages which currently force consumers to pay for channels they’ll never watch. If the bill passes, and people have a choice on purchasing the RSN, more than 80% will choose NOT to. Did you know that half of MLB owns their own RSN? That’s what I meant by their revenues being leveraged versus the NFL, which take no risk whatsoever in their network deals.
    4. Suggestions for baseball: eliminate a minute from between innings, and charge more for advertising. In the short term, there might be a minor loss in revenue, but if games were 30-40 minutes shorter, I think some viewers would return. The umpires should also enforce batters staying in the box and pitchers delivering pitches in 12 seconds. Bill James estimated this would shorten games by over ten minutes as well. Suddenly we’re down in the 2:20 range, which would be fantastic. Playoff games on the weekend SHOULD be during the day – I’d love to see a full day of playoff baseball on whatever Monday holiday we have in October (if there are enough games).

    I would say I’ve added my two cents’ worth, but I think it’s more like $2.

    • Guest says:

      “American viewers want to watch the BEST of whatever sport is being played.” This is a Bill Simmons trope that is now constantly thrown around as a mantra and it’s simply not true. There is huge viewership for NCAA football and basketball and, obviously and self-evidently, neither of those are the best either of the sport has to offer.

      • bpdelia says:

        But now you are talking about regionalism. I’m original from Brooklyn and no one gives a crap about college sports other than to keep tabs on the top few awesome players who will shortly be changing the balance of power in professional leagues. College sports are top level sports for areas to small to have professional sports. The biggest rated college sports are highly exposed small regional teams that routinely feature multiple top professional prospects.

        It just do happens there are a ton of small media markets in this huge county that collectively have formed a conglomerated sports product. But it’s an extremely regional affair.

        • Ed says:

          I don’t think that’s always true.

          I live in Atlanta, but I much prefer college basketball to the NBA. I’ll watch the NBA during the playoffs, but overall I find college basketball to be a more entertaining product.

          I also prefer college football to the NFL. I’m a huge Panthers fan and will watch all of their games every year, but I don’t have any interest in watching a random Bears/Raiders game. I do, however, enjoy watching random college football games. I’ll absolutely watch a Stanford/USC game, or a Texas Tech/Oklahoma State game, even though I’m a UNC fan and have no ties whatsoever to the Pac-12 or Big 12.

          • bpdelia says:

            Interesting. Why? Genuine curiosity. I’m interested in what it is about the college game that dread p draws. Is it the perceived purity? The balance? Regional rivalry? What is it?

          • bpdelia says:

            Aaaaand I don’t know what that “p dread” part means or why autocorrect dropped that in. Disregard.

        • Guest says:

          I’m talking about national television contracts (and ratings) with ABC, CBS, ESPN, etc. You fall right into Joe’s description: using whatever definition fits your preconceived notions.

          • bpdelia says:

            No I understand what you are talking about. I’m saying the top college ratings draws do feature the “best”. Those teams (aside, usually from Notre Dame which has a strange cultural/nostalgia hold on people) have the best young players. The games that draw the ratings feature multiple pro prospects and transcendent performances. On top of that college sports revels in and encourages regionalism more than any other sport.

            And in fact college sports stand in as a sort of proxy warfare for small region relevance. Tuscaloosa, Gainesville, Knoxville. These places, like all places, want to feel relevant and important (and of course they are) being small places movies aren’t set there. Novels aren’t set there. National news stories aren’t set there.

            But big time college sports are. Roll tide is a battle cry for cultural relevance.

            That aspect is crucial to the success of college sports.

            And because they are kids, unpaid kids, it works even better than pro sports which feels like carpet bagging.

            In a big college town (I lived kp in Gainesville for 8 years) the star athletes are visible members of the community.

            It’s us versus them and a huge source of community pride that is on national television and nationally relevant and important.

            That’s the key to college sports success.

          • Guest says:

            Right, colleges feature the “best” because you are making “best” fit into whatever your argument is. Obviously NFL is better than college football. Obviously NBA is better than college basketball. And yet CBS pays $10 billion to secure the rights to March Madness. It’s not because March Madness is the “best” basketball — as Marc, via Bill Simmons, suggests. It’s because people like all sorts of things, even when they are less than the best that the sport has to offer. [Fun game: How many players in the last NCAA men’s basketball tournament will have meaningful NBA careers?]

  31. The irony of course is that the World Cup ain’t what it used to be either. Before cable TV, the consolidation of the world’s best players in a handful of European Leagues, Champions league, and world-wide telecast of the top leagues, there was a mystery about the World Cup that no longer exists. The WC was where stars emerged and you saw top players you had only heard rumors of or read about. American soccer fans never had a chance to see a Maradona until the World Cup in 1986, or a Zico or Cruyff, or Beckenbauer, or a Gerd Mueller (now there was a player’ career Joe would have a field day with). Along the same lines there are no mystery teams anymore like the 1974 Netherlands team, which introduced the world to total football. The mystery is no longer there….I’ve can watch Messi and Ronaldo on TV to my heart’s desire. And to some players the World Cup is an afterthought to brutal league season, domestic cup competitions and Champions league. The players earn their pay checks and reputations playing for their club, not their country.
    So there jaded baseball fans, there are jaded soccer fans as well!

  32. “We want one show, one night, everything at stake. The Super Bowl. The Academy Awards. Game sevens.”

    GAMES seven.

    • bpdelia says:

      I don’t know if that’s your regular internet handle but I’m getting gleeful imagining you with that handle just patrolling the internet pointing out infuriatingly commonly made grammatical errors. Do me a favor huh? Please eliminate the use of dominate as an adjective.

      Man it drives me crazy to read. “Kershaw is a dominate starting pitcher”. My wife is quite sick of me turning to her saying “look at this! Look! How hard is this? I don’t understand what has happened here.”

  33. Sam says:

    The problem with baseball lies primarily with the time issue. The game itself is wonderful.

    I remember watching a World Series game with my uncle from Ireland (who didn’t understand baseball at all prior to the game). I was about nine years old. I explained it, and he sat and watched the majority of the game with me. Now, maybe he was just being a good uncle, but it was a close game, and I think he genuinely appreciated the drama of pitcher vs. batter. Each pitch became an event. You never knew; it could end in a home run; it could end in an out. At some of my little league games, random people would walk up, sit in the stands, cheer for us, and watch the whole game. My Dad sat next to parents and grandparents who simply liked baseball and enjoyed watching us play.

    What people hate about baseball is the stupid drama of how many times a player will whack his shoes before entering the batters box or how long the pitcher can take between pitches. As kids, we used to count how many times the World Series broadcast would feature that same Allstate commercial. (I think it was about a billion, but my memory is hazy.) When watching baseball in person, there’s the incessant music blaring and the wasted time while the game stops again and again for some unknown reason.

    Imagine reading a gripping detective novel. However, it’s over a thousand pages long. Seemingly every 10 pages, the publisher inserted a series of stupid advertisements for random garbage. On page 58 the author suddenly stops in the middle of a scene and sticks in three pages of cliched political ramblings. A few pages later, there’s a 2-page story about what his/her kid is doing at that second in the bathtub. The book continues this way throughout, and there are perhaps 500 pages of actual story. You end up trying to skip bits and pieces to get to the story, but since you can never predict where it starts and stops, you’re stuck wading through the crap.

    That’s basically modern baseball. It’s no wonder I quit watching the World Series after college. I’ve got a job, a family, and limited free time. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

    • bpdelia says:

      Niiiiice. Exactly. Perfectly put and that’s a bitchin metaphor I will be using henceforth. Very good. Like I said earlier. The pitch clock needs to be enforced. Though I’m nervous because the game is already in a period of imbalance and faster working is very likely to favor the pitcher.

      It may need to be balanced with a juiced ball, shorter golf green style infield grass and harder clay infield dirt.

      Though I think those changes need to be made regardless. An easy way to increase offense that the casual fan will never notice.

      Would Willie McGee or those mid 80s cardinals or royals teams even work today? The switch back to grass (an excellent aesthetic and health choice had serious unintended consequences on the game.

  34. Mark Daniel says:

    The stats in soccer flat-out suck.

  35. bpdelia says:

    And right there is a massive one line explanation for another reason I don’t like soccer that I wasn’t even really aware of. Man this might be the best comments section on the interwebs. This, Jezebel, and Rhreality check (want some awesome argument/thought provoking internet discussion? Read snarky witty feminist blogs. Great ratio of brilliance and humor to insanity and trolls available)

  36. Alejo says:

    I’ll say this for baseball: no one is biting anyone.

  37. MikeN says:

    Once the US starts playing well, the anti-American liberals will stop talking about how much they love soccer.

    • bpdelia says:

      I’m an anti American liberal and I already hate soccer!
      Seriously though I’m anti American political and economic system. Geographically and interpersonally I love America. Great beaches, mountains, rivers, beautiful women. Best sports in the world.

      Great cars too though we’ve peaked.

      And of course the best music pound for pound anywhere.

      Also our economically disadvantaged minorities consistently kick the crap out of everyone else’s economically disadvantaged minorities in boxing.

      So there’s that.

    • Doug says:

      Excuse my language but that’s horseshit. It’s nonsense on a logical level – if Americans who like soccer are just anti-American liberals, why are they rooting for the US – and it’s also… I mean, do I really need to explain why this is insulting nonsense? Good lord.

      • bpdelia says:

        Well, you know. Liberals have clearly ruined the nation. Do you realize how many extra old people we have now?! In the good old days old folk had the good graces to starve before their selfish desire for life raised the top marginal tax rate incrementally thereby preventing the purchase of my second boat.

    • Alejo says:

      Everyone is anti-something. I am anti-imbeciles, and yet look, here you are. We just have to learn to tolerate people who are different or think differently.

      • She’s unbelievable. I’m sure we all run into lunatics on the street rambling about the coming Apocolypse. But nobody takes them seriously. We just hustle past them and move on. So, why does anyone take,this fruitcake seriously? I don’t get it.

    • Don’t be “that guy”.

  38. Jeremy says:

    IF soccer were to ever pass baseball in this country, I may as well move. Soccer is not even close to the greatness of our 4 major sports. A bunch of guys running around, biting each other, for 90 minutes and finishing in a 0-0 tie. Awesome

    • I’m not a soccer fan. Youth soccer didn’t even exist when I was young so that’s not surprising. My teens play and follow basketball first, then soccer. And football, of course, it’s the number one sport these days. The only reason I watch soccer is because my kids play and watch (I’m honestly not sure what leagues they watch) international soccer and some MLS on TV. They never watch baseball on TV, although they like going to games… The baseball game experience is still great.

      So, if soccer popularity is the driving reason for staying in the US, you better pack your bags. It hasn’t happened overnight, and it still hasn’t completely happened, but the younger generation is liking soccer more than baseball. The Boomers are already starting to check into Assisted Living facilities while the Millenials are graduating college and getting into the workforce. It’s just a matter of time.

    • Mark Daniel says:

      You make a good point about soccer being a bunch of guys running around biting each other. I, for one, don’t go for that. Unfortunately for baseball, running around wildly (with or without biting) is sort of what really young kids like to do. My son chose soccer over baseball based on the fun he had running all over the soccer field compared to standing in the heat and dust for 45 minutes waiting for a long line of kids to hit a ball meekly off a tee.

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