Anyone Paying Attention To How Many People Are Not Paying Attention?

It’s the penultimate time of the baseball season…the Fall Classic…The World Series.  What began with the first crack of the bat last February is now down to two teams fighting to win just four more games.  If accomplished, the winning players and franchise can claim the coveted title of “World Champion.”

Lifelong memories are created from the World Series.  I remember 1969, when the Amazin’ Mets took on and defeated the prohibitive favorite Baltimore Orioles.  Games were played during the day and we all raced home from school to catch as much of it on our 19” televisions as possible.

Baseball has been the national pastime for well over a century.  It has been as American as apple pie and the flag. Big deal, right?  Well, not so much.  Now, except for baseball diehards or home town fans, those who tune in to the World Series do so because there is likely nothing better to watch.

Just look at the viewership numbers.  Over the past decade or so, baseball has hovered at or below at 10% of the total viewing audience of American households, even when the Yankees have played.  The most notable decline in viewers occurred in 2005, when the White Sox swept the Astros.  The average viewership dropped by over 30% from 2004’s matchup between the Red Sox and Cardinals.  Was this drop in numbers just a function of who was participating?  After all, storied franchises like the Red Sox and Cardinals would draw far more viewers than  a series involving the Houston Astros.

The numbers tell us otherwise.  The average viewership has dropped almost every year since 2004, with the 2012 Tigers/Giants World Series capturing less than half of the 2004 average and only one third of the average World Series viewership from the 1980’s.  The highest rated game over the past 15 years was Game 7 of the Diamondbacks/Yankees series on that wonderful night in early November of 2001.  Absent the kind of drama that existed during that series following 9/11, people have just not been tuning in.

For comparison purposes, this week’s mid-season Sunday Night Football game involving Peyton Manning’s return to Indy captured almost triple the viewer numbers of the 2012 World Series.  Even this week’s Monday Night Football Game between the then-winless New York Giants against the Josh Freeman lead Vikings had more viewers than last year’s World Series average.

The reasons for the ratings debacle are as many as the number of missing viewers.  Baseball has not evolved to capture the next generations of fans.  Cable and satellite television have created dozens or more viewing options than existed in the past.  The games are slower than the immediate-need attention span of today’s viewers.  There are too many games from Spring Training to this point in the season.  The steroid era has destroyed baseball’s record book and has undermined the history and romanticism of the game.

I could go on and on, but I think the point has been made. Maybe this year’s rematch from 2004 of the Red Sox against the Cardinals will re-capture America’s imagination.  Personally, I think not.  “America’s Pastime” may have passed its time.  Absent some meaningful changes to the game and greater coverage to the game itself than to its cheaters, the World Series will be part of nostalgia.  Makes me long for the good ol’ days.