On Tuesday, we discussed why baseball’s top stars can’t land big endorsement deals, and one of the top reasons, we concluded, was that Major League Baseball’s national and global reach has been shrinking for the past decade.
But what’s causing MLB’s decline?
In 2012, Sports Business Journal published an article that offers a compelling explanation: Baseball’s national TV viewership is disappearing.
As you can see below, Fox MLB Saturday has experienced an overall decline in viewers since 2001.
ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball has suffered an even sharper drop.
In SB Nation, Steve Lepore explained that a number of factors have caused MLB’s TV ratings to decline so steadily. The most salient point Lepore made, in my opinion, was the fact that baseball fans have become more tribal.
Now that the Yankees’ “evil empire” is over and the Red Sox have broken their curse, he writes, viewer’s interests in teams outside of their own market has waned. Another graphic from SBJ demonstrates just how drastic this trend has become. (MASN is Mid-Atlantic Sports Network; FS stands for Fox Sports; CSN is Comcast Sports Network.)
Local stations seem to be living or dying based on the success of their city’s team. And while this might be great for FS Detroit during a hot Tigers season, it does not bode well for baseball’s national reach, let alone its global audience. If viewers are not tuning in for big national MLB broadcasts, brands will be reluctant to shell out big money to its players.
As NBA and NFL teams rise and fall — or bring home a mega-star like LeBron James — TV ratings also go with them. By mid-season the Cleveland Cavaliers experienced a 150 percent change in average ratings thanks to James’ return; New York’s football ratings have fallen drastically with the Giants’ and Jets’ huge slide in prestige.
But although they might experience the same downturns, both the NBA and NFL have far higher ratings and reach than MLB. The weakest NFL market, the Oakland Raiders, had a higher average rating (10.9) than some of baseball’s strongest local markets.
The NBA, meanwhile, is making huge inroads abroad (especially in China), making $350 million internationally in 2014 and have grown at an annual rate of 18 percent.
Even one of baseball’s most lucrative markets, New York, has struggled lately to maintain interest in its teams.
How can MLB fix all of this? Some say speeding up the game could revamp interest in the sport, and others suggest rekindling the explosive offense of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s by lowering the pitcher’s mound. During this year’s spring training games, MLB has been experimenting with a clock meant to limit the time between innings.
Baseball purists will scoff at these changes, but MLB needs new offensive stars that can capture the public’s imagination.
Who, besides Alex Rodriguez, is the most nationally visible baseball player?
The fact that you’re probably struggling with this question is cause for concern.
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