By Nick Spooner
It is October, and for baseball fans across the country it is a special time of year because the sport’s final remaining teams are now competing for an opportunity to win this year’s World Series.
For baseball fans, the postseason is a magical time of year, a time where heroes are born, legends are made and the magnitude of every pitch and at bat is magnified by a factor of 100.
Baseball today is filled with stars and personalities like Bryce Harper of the Nationals, Aaron Judge of the Yankees, Jose Altuve of the Astros and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers. Today’s stars are generating excitement in the game that has not been seen in the past 10 years. Through three games, average viewership of the American League Championship Series (ALCS) games went up 57 percent from last year as reported by Sports Media Watch.
Yet with all the excitement and drama of postseason baseball, it cannot compete with the other sports that it shares the market with. In terms of ratings, ALCS game 3 received a three on the ratings scale according to Sports Media Watch.
Meanwhile, on the same night, Monday Night Football’s broadcast of the Titans versus Colts game earned a 6.1 according to Sports Business Daily. It is also important to note that this was the lowest rated Monday Night Football game in over ten years, yet it still received double the ratings.
People would rather watch a sub-par, regular season football game than a postseason baseball game. That is the sad reality that major league baseball and its fans are having to deal with. MLB has made noticeable efforts in recent years to increase pace of play and make the game more enjoyable to younger audiences, and to some extent it has worked. Games are shorter, and there are more action per inning. Also, the game is changing; more home runs were hit this year than in any other season in the league’s history.
This is no doubt a positive for the league, and the recent power surge in the game should improve ratings. Simply put, everyone loves the long ball. I have yet to have a conversation with my friends about that awesome double play in the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s game. Yet every time someone in baseball hits a 400-foot bomb, I get like 20 texts on my phone asking, “Dude, did you see how far that guy hit that?!”
This is the way baseball is in our modern age. Very few times in a season do I actually sit down and watch a game from first pitch to last out. I am probably the biggest baseball fan I know, and even I do not watch every inning of every game. Why should I carve out three hours of my time to sit on the couch at home and watch a baseball game on a Wednesday night? There was a game the night before, there will be a game the night after and there will be a game the night after that. On top of that, I can watch everything I want to see in that night’s baseball game in the first five minutes of the 10 o’clock edition of Sports Center.
Baseball has probably the most devalued regular season in all of sports. That is saying something because we all know that it is a foregone conclusion that Cleveland and Golden State will meet in this year’s NBA Finals. The only real question left to be answered in this year’s regular season is: how many triple doubles is Russell Westbrook going to record?
Baseball has devalued its own regular season which has consequently devalued its postseason. The problem, the season is too damn long! By the end of July, people are tired of baseball. They play 162 games every year. Of which, I would argue only 61 have meaning. Opening Day of the baseball season is practically a national holiday. Heck, for some, it is the only game they will watch all year. The other 60 come in the season’s final two months, where teams are fighting for an opportunity to play in October. That leaves 101 other games that are irrelevant to the average American sports fan.
Baseball is desperately trying to hold on to that number-three spot (behind football and basketball) in the American sports scene, and some would argue that soccer has already taken that spot. The sport has reached a point where it must either adapt – or die. The only solution in sight seems to be to shorten the season. If MLB cuts the length of the season in half to 81 games, roughly three months, the regular season would end in June, and the postseason would start in July and be over before August.
During this one month window, nothing else is going on. Football is a month away and the NBA just wrapped up its season. MLB would have the entire sports audience to itself.
The problem with this is that most diehard baseball fans are also diehard traditionalists who like things just the way they are. They like that the so-called “boys of summer” play their championship in late fall. They cannot fathom the idea of the World Series being played in July when someone like Reggie Jackson, known for his postseason heroics has the nickname, Mr. October. They claim there is something “magical” about the month of October and that, for some reason, it is the only time that postseason baseball can be played.
There is something “magical” about the month of October; MLB has its postseason that month, and if the postseason gets moved to July, then there will be something “magical” about the month of July. It is silly that people get so caught up in the tradition and the pageantry of the way things were 60 years ago.
It is 2017, baseball is not the top dog in the world of sports. It is not even second fiddle. Baseball is the low man on the totem pole. It must accept that, and if it wants to be a bigger part of the sports world it must be willing to make changes to make itself more appealing, not to the baseball fan but to the sports fan.