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Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Deford: Baseball Isn’t Dead; It Just Takes More Work To Appreciate

“Headlines twice the size of the events.”

In baseball, there is always one other long-term prediction, namely that baseball is dying. The non-baseball experts have been bleating this for years, because, they say, baseball is too slow and doesn’t appeal to young people. Of course, the young people it wasn’t supposed to appeal to when baseball first allegedly started dying are now old people buying tickets and taking young people to games, but so it goes.

In fact, yes, baseball is too slow for its own good — please, make the pitcher pitch! — and yes, baseball lacks the appealing lyric brutality of football, but its very deliberate, cerebral nature quite fascinates a significant enough population. All the back-and-forth games — football, soccer, basketball, hockey and so forth — are quick studies. Baseball takes more work to appreciate. And all right, yes, the sappy father-and-son baseball poetry has been beaten to death. Still, baseball is more family-style. Hey, it’s the good old summertime. It’s every day, not life-and-death. Baseball’s simply more comfortable than other sports, and for a lot of people, that ain’t so bad.

The larger point, I believe, is that by now all our popular team games are so deeply ingrained in our culture that they’re here to stay for as far as the eye can see. Look at hockey. No matter how many times the owners call off the season, hockey fans come crawling back on their knees, smiles on their faces, more loyal than ever.

No, of course baseball isn’t the national pastime anymore. King football is supersize national. It gets the gaudy weekly network television ratings, while baseball only gets the daily drippings of the various home-team channels, spread all around. Thus, while certainly nobody would ever call football any kind of a pastime, baseball is still the local pastime. So? Forbes magazine calculates that the average value of a major league team has increased substantially, to three-quarters of a billion dollars. That’s not dead money.

Repoz Posted: April 03, 2013 at 08:53 AM | 36 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: business, dodgers, history

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   1. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 09:32 AM (#4402944)
Tis only a flesh wound.
   2. spike Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:01 AM (#4402971)
Geez, even when I sort of agree with Deford, I can't stand his style.
   3. Transmission Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:05 AM (#4402975)
He ends by identifying the Rays as the "experts" favorite to rep the AL in the WS. This is news to me....

Perhaps if we had fewer casual-fan sports journalists defending the value of a slow and boring sport, we would have fewer people believing the nonsense that baseball is slow and boring...
   4. djordan Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:09 AM (#4402981)
@ Spike, what is it about his style that annoys you? #serious question
   5. booond Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:27 AM (#4402996)
What football lacks is the Yu Darvish moments. There are great games with great individual feats but nothing which mirrors a perfect game or a no hitter.
   6. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:30 AM (#4402999)
Has anyone ever put together the combined ratings for baseball games across the country, as in getting the ratings for all of the various regional broadcasts for a given day and combining them?
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:33 AM (#4403001)
Good question, Clarence. I've never seen it done, but it would take a lot of the hyperbole out of these endless arguments.
   8. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:38 AM (#4403007)
What football lacks is the Yu Darvish moments. There are great games with great individual feats but nothing which mirrors a perfect game or a no hitter.


Agreed. And baseball is really unique in that respect. You can have amazing individual performances in the other sports, but except for hockey you can't have one player who can win you the game by being amazing that day (a la Clayton Kershaw's complete game shutout + HR).
   9. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:42 AM (#4403015)
If you look on this page, you can see that in 2011 the top five teams (Yanks, Phillies, Red Sox, Mets, Giants) averaged about 215,000 viewers a game, while the bottom six (Nats, A's, Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Astros) averaged about 31,000. I'll let anyone who's interested take it from there.
   10. Spahn Insane Posted: April 03, 2013 at 11:10 AM (#4403043)
@ Spike, what is it about his style that annoys you? #serious question

Spike can speak for himself, but I find the last paragraph of the excerpt well nigh unreadable. Aesthetically, I mean--I understand what he's saying, but the prose is awful.
   11. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 12:40 PM (#4403165)
Assuming that the other 24 teams average 40,000 viewers per game (which is being conservative based upon the numbers in #9) then baseball averages 2.2m viewers per team game. Over the course of a week, that would be about 15m viewers. That's significantly less than pro football, but it's nothing to sneeze at. The aggregate total for season viewership would be somewhere around 360m. That doesn't strike me as unreasonable, given that paid attendance has been around 75m a year.

Unless I did the math wrong somewhere.

eta: I did (sum of average audience numbers in the link from post 9 + (40,000x24)) x 15* x 162).

* the 15 is the number of games that would be played for every team to have played once.
   12. Baldrick Posted: April 03, 2013 at 12:50 PM (#4403178)
The problem, I believe, with his writing, indeed with his formation of ideas – just say what you mean! – is the way it takes him days, nay weeks, to get to even the most basic, obvious point. In fact, yes, commas are important to mark pauses – we can’t all be James Joyce – but, for me, they can be overused to the point where I retch, which, as for many people, I consider to be an unpleasant experience.
   13. Jesse Barfield's Right Arm Posted: April 03, 2013 at 12:52 PM (#4403181)
Agree with the style point. I like DeFord on the radio (NPR) much more, where the hyperbole and affect work better.

And baseball rules for one simple reason: it facilitates real conversation and community. The father-son thing may be cliche, but a subdued afternoon baseball game is still my favorite place to talk.
   14. Mattbert Posted: April 03, 2013 at 12:58 PM (#4403202)
I like DeFord on the radio (NPR) much more, where the hyperbole and affect work better.

Which is the medium for which the linked "column" was written, I believe. The prose reads awkwardly, but it sounded fine when he delivered it on the radio this morning.
   15. A big pile of nonsense (gef the talking mongoose) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 01:02 PM (#4403209)
Actually, I was thinking when I saw this article how grateful I am that my car audio no longer works, removing from me any tempation to listen to his pompous blather on NPR en route to work.

Granted, in the last 6 1/2 months he might've gotten more bearable. I doubt it, though.
   16. Steve Treder Posted: April 03, 2013 at 01:33 PM (#4403257)
Deford has lost his best fastball, for sure. But he's been producing a prolific volume of writing for more than half a century, and a significant portion of it is outstanding stuff. I'm a fan.
   17. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 03, 2013 at 01:44 PM (#4403264)
If you look on this page, you can see that in 2011 the top five teams (Yanks, Phillies, Red Sox, Mets, Giants) averaged about 215,000 viewers a game, while the bottom six (Nats, A's, Orioles, Marlins, Royals, Astros) averaged about 31,000. I'll let anyone who's interested take it from there.

So probably about 4 million viewers total, or about a 4 rating. And that's almost certainly generous.

Not sure what that was supposed to prove, other than a whole bunch of meh. Sunday Night Football averages over 20M viewers; four million viewers wouldn't get you in the top 100 most highly-ranked 2011-12 prime time shows.
   18. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:27 PM (#4403308)
4 million viewers a game over the course of a season is a lot of eyeballs. 1,296,000,000 of them, to be exact. Or a few less, once you subtract the pirates with eyepatches.
   19. JJ1986 Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:31 PM (#4403312)
Sunday Night Football averages over 20M viewers;


On a network.
   20. Dale Sams Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:32 PM (#4403313)
All the back-and-forth games — football, soccer, basketball, hockey and so forth — are quick studies


Hardly. Like Baseball, it takes a good amount of know-how to appreciate the nil-nil draw. The build-up. The frustration. The screaming at some #### to get up and stop clutching his head, then hip, then knee. And like baseball, there's all the behind the scenes drama.
   21. djordan Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:33 PM (#4403314)
@ #9, that was a fantastic link. Thanks Very Much for sharing. I wonder how the MLB Network performs on a given night against this.
   22. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:36 PM (#4403318)
The problem with aggregating baseball ratings is that you don't know how many are unique viewers, which I imagine matters to advertisers. The Phillies might get 1.4mm total viewers over the course of a week but many are going to be repeat viewers.

Edit: [12] is fantastic.
   23. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 03, 2013 at 02:40 PM (#4403323)
On a network.

Well, yeah, that's where it's shown. I understood the argument to be (since it's the only thing it could be) was that you needed to aggregate all the regional broadcasts (*) to get a true picture of baseball's popularity on TV. Well, that easy task was done and ... baseball isn't that popular on TV. If it were a prime-time reality show, it would get cancelled for low ratings.

(*) The RSNs are the functional equivalent of a network for these purposes.
   24. Kiko Sakata Posted: April 03, 2013 at 03:12 PM (#4403355)
So probably about 4 million viewers total, or about a 4 rating. And that's almost certainly generous.

Not sure what that was supposed to prove, other than a whole bunch of meh. Sunday Night Football averages over 20M viewers; four million viewers wouldn't get you in the top 100 most highly-ranked 2011-12 prime time shows.


According to this, a 4 rating among 18-49 year-olds would have put you in the top 3 last week.
   25. bigglou115 Posted: April 03, 2013 at 03:17 PM (#4403361)
Well, yeah, that's where it's shown. I understood the argument to be (since it's the only thing it could be) was that you needed to aggregate all the regional broadcasts (*) to get a true picture of baseball's popularity on TV. Well, that easy task was done and ... baseball isn't that popular on TV. If it were a prime-time reality show, it would get cancelled for low ratings.


That depends on how you look at it. In terms of ratings it would suffer, but its relatively inexpensive given its output. They don't pay the salaries, they have live production costs (which aren't that great as I understand it) and new content daily for the majority of the year. That's a pretty sweet deal.
   26. Long Time Listener, First Time Caller Posted: April 03, 2013 at 04:28 PM (#4403428)
Shows that are on 5 nights a week survive just fine with a 4 share. Jay Leno gets 3.5mm viewers. Baseball isn't just on 5 nights a week either.
   27. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 03, 2013 at 04:39 PM (#4403437)
Jay Leno isn't on in prime time.
   28. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 03, 2013 at 05:31 PM (#4403493)
The games mentioned are on cable networks, SBB, not the major networks. 4m viewers is enough to put you in the top 5 of cable programming every single night. Also, a not insignificant portion of the games aren't on in prime time. There's day games, for example. Or If an east coast team is on a west coast swing, the game starts at 10pm EST. A west coast team on the east coast will start at 4pm PST. I'm not sure what you think you're proving, other than that you're a sourpuss.

The problem with aggregating baseball ratings is that you don't know how many are unique viewers, which I imagine matters to advertisers. The Phillies might get 1.4mm total viewers over the course of a week but many are going to be repeat viewers.


That's definitely true. I have to imagine the regional nature of the programming allows larger advertisers to make specific pitches to a certain audience and smaller, local, advertisers to reach their potential customer base, too.
   29. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 03, 2013 at 05:47 PM (#4403509)
I still can't figure out why baseball fans rationalize poor TV ratings so vociferously. I'm a huge hockey fan. No one watches hockey on TV. Who cares?

The games mentioned are on cable networks, SBB, not the major networks.

The major networks are nothing more than agglomerations of regional affiliates, barely different than the Fox and Comcast Sports Net regional affilates that show all the baseball games.
   30. spike Posted: April 03, 2013 at 05:52 PM (#4403511)
@ Spike, what is it about his style that annoys you? #serious question

It tries very hard to be full of lyricism and imagery, and to me winds up being just florid for it's own sake. When read aloud, it really comes off as puttin' on airs - to me anyway. Not saying I could do better, or that Frank doesn't have fans, or even that once upon a time in his career, I thought he did pretty good stuff. It just seems very tired and a shade contrived to me now.
   31. cardsfanboy Posted: April 03, 2013 at 06:37 PM (#4403563)
I still can't figure out why baseball fans rationalize poor TV ratings so vociferously. I'm a huge hockey fan. No one watches hockey on TV. Who cares?


It's the opposite. We can't figure out why idiots fall into the poor ratings trap so easily.
   32. Long Time Listener, First Time Caller Posted: April 03, 2013 at 07:30 PM (#4403611)
Jay Leno isn't on in prime time.


Neither are a number of baseball games. Nor is Jay Leno up against prime time programming on weekday nights. It's not that baseball has good ratings. It's just that comparing it to football is stupid because it's...well...really really stupid for a number of reasons anyone should be able to see except insecure football fans who can't be content that football is clearly much more zeitgeist than baseball right now--they have to try to ram it down people's throats and pretend baseball isn't a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

SMASH SELIG, ROGER says a small, small little boy who writes for Yahoo
   33. Everybody Loves Tyrus Raymond Posted: April 03, 2013 at 10:00 PM (#4403810)
You can have amazing individual performances in the other sports, but except for hockey you can't have one player who can win you the game by being amazing that day (a la Clayton Kershaw's complete game shutout + HR).


Basketball is probably the sport where a dominant individual has the most impact (possibly excepting baseball pitchers). Think of Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game. Guys like Jordan and Kobe could/can essentially win a game by themselves.

Football is tougher, but it can certainly happen. One clear example is Gale Sayers' 6 TDs on 14 touches in 1965.
   34. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 04, 2013 at 12:22 AM (#4403923)
Will it really matter in the least if baseball in 30 years runs a distant third in popularity to football, basketball, and rollerball? Terrific athletes will still be playing it. The rules will probably be pretty much the same. If salaries are a third of what they are now and a half dozen teams fold, why is even that serious a 'calamity' something to fret about?
   35. Steve Treder Posted: April 04, 2013 at 12:46 AM (#4403931)
It isn't. It's a tired excuse for a silly article, guaranteed to appear multiple times every year.
   36. The Anthony Kennedy of BBTF (Scott) Posted: April 04, 2013 at 08:30 AM (#4403980)
The major networks are nothing more than agglomerations of regional affiliates, barely different than the Fox and Comcast Sports Net regional affilates that show all the baseball games.


This is true in the most narrow sense, but completely elides how widely available networks are compared to regional sports networks. C'mon, man.

And we're not even saying MLB ratings are good, we're saying they're perfectly fine to fairly good for basic cable and that over a 162 game season the overall number of viewers is an objectively large number despite the fairly low per-game viewership.

Baseball is healthy, and the only medium term worry is that the nature of the cable industry changes over the next decade or so and the profits they're trying to lock in now from long term TV deals and owning their own RSNs turn out to not be possible. And even that wouldn't be a true disaster unless they completely botch their adaptation to the new business reality.

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