Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Hard Sell

When major league baseball realigned its divisions in the early 1970’s and implemented the wild card several years later, the explanation given was that such changes would increase spectator interest in more cities as the season wound down if more teams were in the hunt for a post-season berth. The unspoken motive behind the decision was to increase television revenues by extending the season generally and, baseball executives hoped, to more large markets.

The Commissioner’s office could barely conceal its glee when teams from New York, Los Angeles and Chicago were in the hunt; conversely, they secretly must have rooted against a post-season filled with the likes of Cleveland, Kansas City or Milwaukee. No need to worry there, Bud; thanks in part to television revenues, small market teams have generally been infrequent visitors to the post-season for quite some time.

The point of all of this preamble is that despite the increased attendance and television ratings in cities such as Philadelphia, San Diego and Minneapolis as the recently-concluded Wild Card chase produced, the benefits of an extended season with more teams participating seems ultimately to have fallen short of MLB’s objectives. At least that is the preliminary conclusion we must draw based on the series of ads running on television starring former Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda.

In them, Lasorda, dressed in black tie, visits the homes of various fans whose teams failed to make the playoffs. Finding them hiding in various places, mourning their home team’s failure to make the playoffs (one is up in a tree, another in a kitchen cabinet), Lasorda doesn’t merely coax them to come out, he exhorts them to get a grip and watch the post-season on television.

Real fans don’t hide in October. They celebrate it!, he admonishes one fan. It’s October. You’re a baseball fan. Watch the games!, he virtually shouts at another, concluding, I live for this! You live for this! The world lives for this! To the TV!

Judging from comments in the phlogosphere, few "real fans" are watching much if any of the current playoffs. And with the Yankees and Dodgers already eliminated, Tommy’s hard sell just got harder.


dane said...

i have watched a good deal of post season baseball so far. the tigers pitching was great in knocking out the yanks. the game kenny rogers pitched was terrific. I will watch as long as the A's continue to play. I always pull for the A's in the AL. I am also watching hoping that the Mets get knocked out. If you aren't watching yet I would encourage everybody to watch the Tigers-A's series, it should be great.

RickSchuBlues said...

The problem is, longtime fans such as myself are turned off by the extended playoffs, and the outright *cheapening* of the World Series. Three postseason series is one too many. More is always more as far as the people running MLB are concerned, but often more is less, and vice versa. Tell me you were excited watching those positively mundane Cardinals-Padres contests. It felt like I was watching games played between two mediocre teams in the middle of July. These are the playoffs? Oh, thanks for telling me, Tommy (Lasorda). I might never have known otherwise.

RickSchuBlues said...

I say three postseason series, but actually there are *seven*. So that's four too many, in my mind. October baseball doesn't feel as special because it's *not* as special, there's so much of it that it all becomes an indistinct blur after a while to a non-partisan fan.

Tom Goodman said...

I am still waiting for November baseball. It is inevitable. All it would take is some lousy weather in northern climates on the heels of two seven game series. Game called on account of snow.

Anonymous said...

Check out the forecast for Detroit Friday night game three... 40% chance of snow.

RickSchuBlues said...

And on top of all this, I'm supposed to get revved up for the "World Baseball Classic"? No thanks. I suppose the only thing left is Indoor Arena Baseball, or the marketing of Winter Ball in South America, so that there's no off-season at all.

I learned from living in Arizona that you appreciate good weather more when it's less frequent. The Baseball Lords would do well to consider this and apply it to their ever-expanding product.

Tom Goodman said...

RSB: re: living in the Southwest and appreciating good weather when it occurs less frequently....

I went to graduate school in New Mexico and recall the Albuquerque Journal used to keep a SUN COUNT on the front page, no doubt a Chamber of Commerce inspired tally of those days during which the sun shone. Wouldn't it have been easier, I thought, to keep track of those days when the sun didn't shine??? And wouldn't it be nice if it rained once in a while. Too much sun made me long for cloudy days once in a while. When the movie Sons and Lovers opened with its lush green Emerald Isle setting, I was tempted to sit through it six or seven times for the scenery alone.

Speaking of endless year-round sport, football is on its way with Arena football, NFL Europe, Canada and, of course, the college and pro seasons in the States.

George S said...

The interest level in watching the post-season is not as high as it had traditionally been. Too many mediocre teams in the post-season has already been mentioned as one reason, which I agree with.

The season is too long, and playing baseball in football weather at the end of October does not allow the best teams to showcase themselves or the sport. It’s a different game. You can also add the fact that the players are simply worn out already by two post-season series by the time they even get to the WS. They’ve already played over 170+ games.

Another factor is inter-league play, one of the worst ideas baseball has ever come up with to milk a few more $$ out of the game. There used to be a curiosity factor about the post-season, where you got to see players that you normally didn’t see very often. And you could see teams that never face each other go at it in the WS. But with inter-league play that is no longer much of a factor. Tigers-Cardinals in the WS? Already saw the Tigers sweep St Louis in June, thank you.

Then there is the negative impact of TV, which hurts interest in the post-season in at least three ways. First, they manipulate the starting times of games to suit their broadcasting needs, which results in games starting in afternoon shadows, games starting at 9pm, all night games, etc. The night games simply put more focus on the cold weather, and games finishing after midnight are not conducive to big audiences. Second, the games not only often start at bad times, but they drag on forever, which results in many fans tuning out after a while. Who wants to sit up at midnight listening to TV announcers filling time with nonsensical blather? TV does not present the product in a way that makes it easy and fun to watch. They assume those watching the post-season haven’t followed the sport at all during the summer and therefore don’t know anything about a) baseball, b) the teams or c) the players. Third, TV over-hypes too many meaningless regular season games, detracting from the post-season. Does every Yankee-Red Sox game, or Yankee-Mets game need to be nationally televised and hyped like it’s game 7 of the WS? They also focus too much on just a few popular (read: big TV market) teams, so that if another team makes the post-season, few people know much about them. Interest is therefore lower.

The WS is also hurt by the media’s recent focus on how dominant the AL is over the NL. The WS is presented as an afterthought, with the best team being the winner of the ALCS. With the 4 highest payroll teams all in the AL (start of 2006 season), this will no doubt continue, although only one of those 4 made the post-season this year.

So, shorten the season by reducing the number of games to 154, or by eliminating one round of playoffs. (I prefer eliminating one round of playoffs, with simply an Eastern and Western Division in each league). This helps ensure better baseball weather, and gets rid of also-ran teams in the post-season. Next, allow a couple of WS games to be played during the day. The idea behind night games on weekends was to avoid conflict with football, but football is now also telecast at night, so you might as well play during the day on Saturday or Sunday. Next, get rid of the bogus inter-league play format. It’s unfair and doesn’t create any excitement. Finally, do not link the all-star game with home field in the WS. Stupid. Alternate home field each year.

Corey & Carson said...

Every year I get more and more bitter about the Phillies not reaching the playoffs and say to myself "you're not going to really watch any of those games". Then I watch the games because if there's baseball on the tv, I'm watching. Hell, I even tune into ESPN classic during the winter months hoping to catch an old game, too bad they broadcast the Joe Carter homer game a lot...dammit!