Thursday, October 26, 2006

A sport in decline

Despite the annual excitement that surrounds the World Series, despite record attendance numbers, and despite the fact that Bud Selig and Don Fehr are being congratulated for creating labor peace, there are major issues facing the game that most who stop by this page follow regularly. Baseball my friends has long been believed to be in a decline. A few facts only seem to justify that belief.

The World Series television ratings for the first three games are once again pitiful. This from an AP article:
The St. Louis Cardinals' 5-0 victory Tuesday night was the lowest-rated Game 3 in Series history, and the three-game average also was the lowest ever.

Game 3 drew a 10.2 fast national rating and 17 share, Fox said Wednesday, down 7 percent from the 11.0 rating last year for the 7-5, 14-inning win by the Chicago White Sox over the Houston Astros. The previous record low for Game 3 was the 10.8 rating for the Anaheim Angels' 10-4 win over the San Francisco Giants in 2002.

The three-game average of 9.9/17 was down 7 percent from the previous low of 10.6/19, set last year.

Yeah, there are many excuses. Two Midwest teams, no huge market team from the east (specifically the evil empire), no national story for the country to latch onto. Still, it has become an annual event to hear about the low ratings for the World Series. You can make all the excuses about market size, but the viewers just are not there. The commish, well he's just happy putting cash in his pockets. Here is what Uncle Bud had to say:
"I'm not overly concerned," he said. "The teams' television ratings all year have been spectacular. Let's wait until the World Series is over."
followed by this:
"We've now renewed all our contracts for seven years and had lots of competition," Selig said, "so apparently the people in the television business like what they're seeing."
Sounds like a man who is pretty satisfied with the job he has done.

An AP/AOL Poll released prior to the 2006 World Series should wipe that grin off of the commissioners face. It is my opinion that this poll shows what is troubling the sport of baseball. Like horse racing and boxing before baseball, the grand old game is failing to register with a younger audience (I know what a News Flash). According to the poll only 1/3rd of Americans consider themselves baseball fans. The numbers are worse when you take out those who are age 35 and higher. Baseball is not connecting with the youngsters.
According to the poll, more Americans 35 years and older than under 35 considered themselves baseball fans. Whites were more likely than minorities to put themselves in that category.

Yet overall, about two-thirds of Americans did not regard themselves as fans.

One of the reasons younger kids are not becoming fans is there is so many choices out there for entertainment. Another excuse that has been talked about over the last few decades is the late start time of the fall classic. Here is what the survey found:
75 percent of fans said postseason games start at the right time, 19 percent said they were on too late. And while most fans, 73 percent, said they would stay up late to watch the World Series, only 38 percent of those with school-aged children said they'd let their children stay awake past their bedtimes.

It shouldn't come as a surprise, but the steroid issue has died down from last spring. Fans consider that the third issue confronting the game today, behind huge salaries and the cost of attending a ballgame.
Among all Americans, 28 percent said salaries were the top problem in baseball, 21 percent said it was the high cost of attending games and 19 percent said it was players using steroids and performance-enhancing drugs.

That's a change from an AP-AOL Sports poll taken in April 2005, when 27 percent picked banned substances as baseball's No. 1 problem.

Click here to see complete findings of the AP/AOL survey.

As baseball looks ahead to the future they have to be concerned. Bud Selig has called this the Golden Age. I'm not so sure about that. When Selig's contract expires in 2009 he will be 75 years old. Andy MacPhail will be 56 in 2009. The rumors have swirled for years that Andy is in line to take over for Selig. His success on the last two CBA's has only increased his value in baseball circles. The third generation baseball czar knows how to run a successful baseball business. Andy MacPhail could be the man called upon to turn the numbers above around. It will be a big challenge for MacPhail, but certainly not the biggest of his baseball career.

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