Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Trouble with Baseball

UPDATE: (And Bud Selig says he's happy?)

Trying to kill some time in the car last night I flipped around the radio dial looking for Game 1 of the World Series ... and never found it. Lots of 50,000-watt sports stations talking football, the opening of the NBA season and even hockey, but no baseball. (Yes, I know ESPN radio has a contract to broadcast the series, but that doesn't mean local stations can't pre-empt for potentially more profitable local shows).

There was a time when the World Series was the preeminent sporting event in the country, and it's somewhat sad to see it have to compete for media attention with football on the weekend, then MMA, college volleyball and fantasy football during the week. (The first two games of the Series had to go head-to-head with NCAA football--#3 Boise State on Wednesday night and #16 Florida State on Thursday).

Some of the problem is scheduling. When the Tigers and Cardinals played in 1968--the last World Series before the playoffs began--the Series began on October 2 and finished on October 10. Thanks to two rounds of playoffs this year's Series didn't even start until October 27 and will finish in November. By that time, the sports calendar has turned to basketball, hockey and other winter sports and most fans have moved on. And now, baseball is considering adding even more playoff teams, which could conceivably push back the series until Thanksgiving.

The other problem is one that baseball has tried to overcome for the past 50 years--the game simply doesn't work well on television. Major League Baseball has wisely moved up the start times of most games so they don't end after midnight anymore, but that's only a cosmetic fix. The game has too many long periods where almost nothing of consequence seems to happen, and that has been underscored in this year's playoffs which have been dominated by low scoring and pitching. (Notwithstanding last night's 11-7 win by the Giants). NFL fans can flip through "Red Zone" channels to find the next exciting play, but you can't do that with baseball. The pace of the game fits much better on radio, where listeners are required to use more imagination, but even there the Series is getting blown off the airwaves.

At this point, the World Series on television is still broadcast on the networks, mainly for reasons of "tradition." But if trends keep heading in the same direction I can see a day where it moves to cable (like the BCS) or even pay-per-view.


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