Is the baseball TV coverage backlash reaching a tipping point?

Open Thread: Putting together the USA WBC team
Keeping Joba in perspective

In less than 48 hours, Joe Buck and Tim McCarver will grace millions of homes across the country — OK, just in Philadelphia and the Tampa Bay area — with the dulcet tones of FOX’s annual World Series coverage. I can hardly wait.

For anyone who watches baseball week in and week out during the season, Buck and mcCarver are a familiar pair. The two provide the commentary on FOX’s weekly Saturday broadcast and during the All Star Game. Even after baseball season, it’s impossible to escape Joe Buck as the robotic announcer covers football for Rupert Murdoch’s media empire as well.

Over the years, Buck and McCarver have done little to impress the crowd. Buck often sounds like he’d rather be somewhere else, and McCarver speaks a lot while saying a little. He’s also shown as tenuous a grasp on baseball player names as John Kerry did in 2004. It may even have come as a shock to McCarver than Manny Ortez wasn’t actually a player on the Red Sox.

As time wore on, though, it seemed like the only people complaining were those of us with our own online platforms. Fire Joe Morgan, a site clearly dedicated to the ESPN broadcaster, and Awful Announcing are popular online, but no one is listening. Maybe, just maybe, a Phillies-Rays World Series will spur on some changes.

Last week, Slate columnist Ben Mathis-Lilley started the annual baseball announcer bemoaning, and his cry has been picked up with increasing frequency over the last few days. A Huffington Post writer — not quite a position with high barriers to entry — warns of the impending Buck/McCarver tandem, but more important is Maury Brown’s diatribe about the national media. Brown writes emotionally:

So why, oh why, will the ratings be low? Blame broadcasters, for one.

Low ratings show, in part, that when you spend week after week, year after year showing the Red Sox and the Yankees during the regular season, you brainwash the average fan. If you want to make October something special, no matter who is playing, you better get America to follow all 30 teams.

This requires doing a bit of detox on FOX, ESPN, and TBS’ part. Understandably, you have America hooked on the Red Sox and Yankees, and with that you get your precious regular season ratings. The problem is, if one or the other team isn’t in the World Series and ratings are low, there’s a mountain of articles talking about how it’s a matter of being a “poor Series.”

That’s a load of manure…So, I say, the low ratings do mean something. It means that broadcasters will decide that, in the end, they will get on bended knee and pray for the Red Sox, Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Angels or Cubs to make the World Series, and hope that they drew high ratings during the regular season.

Brown is 100 percent correct, no ifs, ands or buts about it. The national TV landscaped for baseball has become so attuned to the weekly ratings that they sacrifice the popularity of the game. Constant attention on the Yankees or Mets, on the Cubs and White Sox, on the Angels, Red Sox and Dodgers isn’t something promoting the best interests of the game.

Rather, the national TV coverage promotes the best interests of ESPN, FOX and TBS. These stations need money; they get money from advertising; they get more advertising from higher ratings. Since there are more fans in New York and Los Angeles and New England, games featuring teams from those areas will attract more eyeballs.

When Major League Baseball has a chance to renegotiate its next media contract — and that date won’t arrive until well into the next decade — it would behoove the game if the Powers That Be urge the networks to show a more distributive sampling of teams and games. After all, these telecasts should be about promoting baseball, and clearly something has gone wrong when a World Series match-up that promises to be as compelling this one is decried as a ratings bust before the games even begin.

Open Thread: Putting together the USA WBC team
Keeping Joba in perspective
  • Brian

    As much as I loved 96-00, a lot of people say (without animosity to Yankee fans like me) that the best series in that lot was 97, Marlins v. Indians. And from a competitive standpoint, it probably was.

    I can see this Series being completely awesome from the view of the purist. Moyer v. the whippersnappers, for one. Embrace it, because it will certainly be several shades of awesomer better than Red Sox v. Rockies, despite the announcers.

    I think I actually like Tampa Bay just because the Yankees are rooted there….even if, technically, they are a threat to Yankee hegemony. There’s some cognitive dissonance there that I like, unlike the cognitive assonance that comes with your average Bostonian.

    • JD

      I’m going to have to say 96 was competitive as well. Except for the first 2 games when the Yankees got blown out, every game was tight especially when Leyritz hit that homerun off of Wohlers in game 4.

    • Mike A.

      I still believe Renteria set Nagy up in Game 7 of the ’97 WS. Nagy threw him a curve, and Renteria buckled his knees and took a half-hearted swing that ended up missing by a mile. It was the classic example of a veteran pitcher outsmarting a 21-yr old second yr player. Later in the at-bat, Nagy throws the same pitch in a put-away situation, and bam, Renteria shoots it up the middle, Counsell scores, Marlins win.

      Renteria did that shit on purpose, he had too. No way he could look that bad on a pitch and then get a textbook knock on the same pitch later in the same at-bat without doing it on purpose. But I digress.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos

        But I digest.

        Princess Leia was coming back from buying space groceries when this happened…

  • pat

    I think its crazy to blame the announcers for crappy tv ratings. The simple explanation is usually the best, tampa and philly have a population of like 1.9 million people, ny alone is 8 mil at least. Showing a few more of their games on tv isn’t going to make them more marketable than the yanks or sox.

    • AlexCT

      baseball has always been a regional draw, with relatively few games nationally televised like other sports, but it still is a hugely popular sport, and the networks have failed in their attempts(or lack of) to draw the casual viewer or out of town team fan by having charismatic and knowledgeable broadcasters. (this is not a plea to slow the game down with crappy cameos and stupid comments like ESPN has tried with MNF)

  • dan

    Wasn’t the Subway series in 2000 the lowest rated WS at the time? It might still be, not sure.

    • AlexCT

      that was not the worst ever. 2006 was by far the worst. last years sox-rockies series was second worst. there is a wikipedia article with ratings for the last 25 or so WS.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        At the time the 2000 Series was the lowest rated WS, so he’s not completely off. Since then 4 new lowest-ratings records have been set, though.

  • AlexCT

    very well said. another interesting note: a few months ago i read some articles and also hear stories about Joe Buck saying that he was dissillusioned with baseball recently, and felt that his heart wasn’t in it. i forget who it was, but there were mainstream sports media guys claiming he should step down or be fired after blasphemous comments like thatm and i tend to agree. plus, he’s boring; all voice, no wit. The two that were talking about it lobbied to give bob costas a chance, who apparently is obsessed with baseball. normally i’m anti bob costas because of his covering so many boring human interest stories at each olympics, but i say anyone is better than joe buck, especially someone that actually wants to be there.

    (this comment was purely limited to the joe buck situation, and while i dislike him, i would rather have him cover even more games than have to deal with ESPN’s sunday night broadcasts, which should be criminal. joe morgan is a master at repeating the same point over and over again, and has a doctorate in the obvious.)

    • A.D.

      Buck had this whole bit about how there isn’t time to watch games during the week because people spend time with their family & the games are too long.

      Complete load of BS, sure maybe you don’t watch the whole game, but you can watch part of it

    • Thomas

      Joe Morgan calls that being “cosistent”.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos

        My favorite from FJM:

        Mark: Joe, as of right now who is the AL MVP?
        Joe Morgan: That’s difficult to answer because the season is not over,
        Ken Tremendous: The question was “as of right now.”
        Theoretical Joe Morgan: Right, and it’s hard to answer because of what will happen in the future.
        KT: But…the question is: right now, who’s the MVP. Like, now. At this moment.
        TJM: But I can’t answer that, because I can’t tell the future.
        KT: Hang on. Let me try something. What time is it.
        TJM: No way to tell.
        KT: Because you don’t know what time it will be in the future?
        TJM: Correct.
        KT: Fair enough.

  • JRVJ

    What I fail to understand is why people imply that the Phillies are not a draw.

    Sure, they don’t have a national network (WGN, TBS) selling them or a de facto cable network shilling for them (COUGH ESPN COUGH), but Philly is still the 4th or 5th largest TV market in the U.S.

    Add to that the fact that they play against the Mets (which should make them halfway familiar to some of NY), have some legs in the Maryland market (both because of geographical reasons and now playing the Nats), and that surely there must be SOME Philly transplants out there, and you’d think the Phillies have great growth potential.

    I admit that I am stumped about Tampa’s potential, though perhaps Yankee and Red Sox fans will tune in to better understand what they will be up against in the future….

    (Admittedly, I don’t see this WS as a big draw in the Western U.S., and to an extent, in the midwest).

  • Steve

    Ben, you don’t seem to grasp the TV biz or the relationship between it and its viewers. TV networks dont force the Red Sox or Yankees down the throats of its viewers, they broadcast those games because that’s what more fans choose to watch. Plus they are both large markets in their own right, which gives them a bigger base to start with.

    The people that bemoan the heavy NY-CHI-LA-BOS coverage disprove their own argument from the outset. They at least have an opinion one way or the other, they either love or hate the big cities for some reason. That means they’re interested. Nobody has an opinion one way or the other about Tampa, Florida because they don’t care one way or the other.

    They’re in the ratings biz, if people don’t watch a Rays-CLE match up during the regular season you cant force them to, and then were back to square one for WS purposes.

    • Ben K.

      Actually, I understand the TV business perfectly well, considering that I’ve worked in both sports and TV. In fact, I said exactly what you claim I “don’t seem to grasp” in the second-to-last paragraph of this post. The networks air the games from the major markets because they draw better. There’s no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean — as I theorize — that airing those games is in the best interest of the sport. It’s certainly in the best interests of ESPN and FOX; no one’s arguing that. But baseball as a national sport? I don’t think so.

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      To echo Ben’s comment above, you seem to be missing his point (which is not the same as simply disagreeing with him). He stipulated in his post that the networks show more “big market” games because more people will watch those games (thus more advertising dollars etc.), but drew a distinction between what’s best for the networks and what he considers to be in the best interest of MLB. Ben answered you above, I just wanted to second his response. You should steer clear of using language like “you don’t seem to grasp” the concept unless you’ve carefully read the post and have found a provable falsehood therein.

    • A.D.

      Depends, they should more go the Flex route, they go with the big market teams beacuse its safe, but if they could have the freedom to decide that week, they could pick top pitching matchup or 2 teams that have been hot lately

  • Bo

    This is a falsehood. There aren’t better ratings when the big clubs are in it. They just need the series to go 7 games.

    Baseball is the parity game nowadays. How any times in the past 5 years have the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Angels or Cubs made the series?

    • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

      “This is a falsehood. There aren’t better ratings when the big clubs are in it. They just need the series to go 7 games”

      Have you actually taken a look at the numbers or is this just your gut-feeling? Let’s take a look at the World Series from 2000-2007 (clearly this is a very small sample size, but let’s take a look anyway).

      The highest rated WS during this time was in 2004, a 4-game series between the Sox and Rockies (I’ll call it big market/short series). The lowest rated was in 2006, a 5-game series between the Tigers and the Cards (I’ll call it small market/short series).

      Between 2000 and 2007, the four highest rated WS each featured a big market team (either the Yanks or the Sox). Of those 4 WS, 2 were short series (4 and 5 games, respectively) and 2 were long series (7 and 6 games, respectively). Of the four lowest rated WS during that period, 3 were short series (4/5 games) and one was a long series (7 games). Only 1 of those low-rated short-series WS featured a big market team (I don’t count the ChiSox in 2005 – Chicago’s a big market but the ChiSox are second-class citizens there, and the market itself pales in comparison to the East Coast and West Coast markets). The low-rated big-market WS featured the Angels and Giants. This one is arguable, but I don’t think the Angels draw like a big market team (the Dodgers are the primary team in LA), and the Angels/Giants matchup didn’t have regional pull for the rest of the country.

      So we’re not really getting a “strength of market” vs. “length of series” showdown here, but if you had a gun to your head and had to decide which factor was more important from this set of data alone, you’d have to go with the size of the market, right? I don’t think the data backs up your assertion of fact.

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos

        Mike and the Mad Dog are going to sue you for doing their bit.

        • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

          Ugh. No mens rea or something! Someone help me with a law school term, I forget. I never listen(ed) to those guys.

          • tommiesmithjohncarlos

            How about “I never listened to those guys, therefore, res ipsa loquitur, I can’t be guilty of intentional copyright infringement.

            • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

              Thanks for reminding me why I’m not a litigator.

              • tommiesmithjohncarlos

                Me neither. I’m just a caveman, your modern world frightens and confuses me.

  • Bill N

    While I agree that the broadcasting is awful. I know firsthand that there are Philly transplants mainly on the east coast and some out west. Now I am a Yanks fans but do follow the Phils, and I can say of most Philly fans once a fan always a fan no matter where you live. So even if the ratings are crap who care. We watch the game because we love the game. Even if the broadcasters are horrible

  • A.D.

    The broadcasting being awful can’t help, you’re faced with the decision to watch new TV shows since they have recently returned from hiatus or watch a baseball that is intriguing, since its the WS, but not your team, but you have to listen to 2 bumbling idiots go on for 3 hours making non-insightful insights.

    There’s nothing baseball can do about the teams in the WS or other TV programming, but they can get some interesting people on the television

  • tommiesmithjohncarlos

    Perhaps baseball needs scantily clad cheerleaders.

    • A.D.

      it needs more Erin Andrews

      • tommiesmithjohncarlos

        Ugh, pass. I want real cute girls, not pseudo-cute girls who only seem cute because they’re the only non-male face you see on your screen but who look quite average when surrounded by other females.

      • The Honorable Congressman Mondesi

        Is Melissa Stark still around? I remember everyone being into her when I was in college. EA is the poor man’s Melissa Stark. Yup, I went there.

        • tommiesmithjohncarlos

          Stark and Lisa Guerrero >>> Erin Andrews.

          (although, not as journalists.)

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