As baseball fans tune in to watch the Fall Classic they will be once again subject to what usually amounts to a long and drawn out World Series. While baseball is near and dear to the hearts of many sports fans for its timeless traditions, the best-of-seven tradition (or any multi-game series in any sport) needs to be shelved in Cooperstown, Springfield (basketball) or any other appropriate Hall of Fame.
As Frank Deford noted in his piece on National Public Radio recently, one of the most exciting events in sport is the single elimination tournament; to wit, the National Football League playoffs that result in the Super Bowl, and March Madness that leads to the men’s and women’s national college basketball championships. Major League Baseball should take notice. Sports fans these days (especially those Gen X’ers who strongly favor X Games over traditional sports such as baseball) do not have the patience or attention span to sit through, or doze through, night after night of World Series games that normally go beyond the bed time of most sports fans.
Some may say that to give up a best-of-seven series for a single game would significantly negate revenue but the single game success of viewership and advertising sales of the Super Bowl and March Madness championships strongly argue against that point. A single baseball World Championship game on a Sunday night that begins in the early evening (similar to the Super Bowl) would yield all the benefits that the Super Bowl realizes and most likely exceed typical World Series revenues.
No one can deny that television ratings for recent World Series have been poor, especially in later innings. Games don’t even start on the East Coast until 8:00 PM and often last until 11:00 PM or later. TV ratings show a steady decline after the 4th inning of games. Low ratings translate into lower advertising revenues per commercial minute.
It’s time to think of the baseball World Championship as one big nationwide event in which everyone knows that the outcome of the game determines a definitive winner, rather than the current tradition of fans solitarily snoozing in their respective easy chairs into the early morning hours, not knowing that the anticlimactic and tedious baseball post-season, on any given night, may or may not come to an end.
The United States market is a big event market. ESPN got good ratings for its live broadcasts of 2010 Men’s World Cup soccer matches, even though regular MLS league games are watched by almost no one. Every four years Americans tune in to watch Olympic sports such as track and swimming that they could care less about normally.
Change is inevitable. Are you listening, Major League Baseball owners?
Craig T. Bogar, Ed.D.
Dr. Bogar is a member of the United States Sports Academy’s Distance Learning Faculty and is a former college athletic director and coach. Issues like this are topics in courses taught at the Academy. For more information go to http://ussa.edu.