Monday, November 1, 2021

Is Baseball in Trouble?

Those of you who have bothered to tune into any of the playoffs this season have probably noticed a series of strange ads featuring, “the Moon.”

In these spots, the Moon—billed as "Lou Nar, the Moon Man," a person wearing a moon-head that makes him look a little like Mr. Met, save for the sad eyes and fixed, rictus grin of the Queens-based mascot—complains about how many “moonshots” players keep hitting at him.

Weirdly, though, the ad ends up being for MLB’s…first cryptocurrency! 

You read that right. The Lords of the Game now have their very own bitcoin, something called “FTX.” 

In some of the ads, Big Papi even joins in. Yeah, that’s perfect. A fraud and a cheat advertising a financial instrument that’s about as reliable as the promises of an online, “Nigerian prince.”  

For that matter, MLB has also gone all in on a partnership with online gambling.

Hmm. Cryptocurrencies and online gambling. What could possibly go wrong?

One has to wonder if these decisions reflect a certain, growing desperation within the Valhalla of MLB’s reigning deities. Is the game in financial trouble?

The attendance figures certainly don’t look good. Major-league baseball’s total attendance this year was something like 45 million, a 37-year low—though one that can easily be attributed to Covid.

Even before the pandemic, however, total attendance was tilting steadily downward, dropping from an all-time high of nearly 79.5 million in 2007  to just 68.5 million in 2019—before the pandemic.

That’s a drop of about 14 percent, from nearly 33,000 a game to just over 28,000.

(Your New York Yankees, incidentally, plunged from an all-time attendance high of 4,298,655 in 2008, to just 3,304,404 in 2019, a drop of over 23 percent. This was no doubt partly because of the team’s decision to deliberately shrink its seating capacity in Yankee Stadium III, in favor of more luxury boxes. But it still means many fewer fans.)

When confronted with such blatant evidence of its plummeting popularity, MLB likes to point to its lucrative television contracts, or such bold new sources of revenue as selling broadcast rights to your phone. 

Or its deals to sell you cryptocurrency. Or to turn you into a gambling addict. (What’s next? Naming the official narco-trafficker of the New York Yankees?)

But it’s highly doubtful that broadcast figures can be very good, either.

After all, the highest ratings for any major-league baseball series, ever, came in the 1978 World Series between the Yankees and the Dodgers, which had a rating of 32.8 and a share of 56. 

In other words, almost a third of all American households—and over half with a TV on—an estimated 44,278,950 viewers in all—watched Reggie and the gang flatten the Bums. 

The 2020 Series ratings? An all-time low, at a 5.2 rating, 12 share, and 9,785,000 viewers. Ouch.  

And don’t count on this fall’s less-than-classic classic bringing those figures back up very much.

In other words, baseball on TV has gone from its very best performance to its very worst over the last 43 years—nearly a half-century of almost constant decline. The last time any World Series game drew so much as a 30 rating was in 1991.

So steadily dropping numbers in television viewing and attendance. Yeah, keep telling yourself things are going well, o lords of the game. And now, here is Vladimir Putin to sell you wonderful new Russian vaccines, courtesy of MLB…


Dantes said...

And if the Yankees run out the same team next year with upgrades watch that attendance drop even more.

EBD said...

Super Bowl ratings have been trending downward for the past five or six years as well, although still robust compared to the World Series. Also, keep in mind that you're comparing apples and oranges to some extent--overall TV viewership of network television is way down from its peak in the sixties and seventies, so that trend pulls down the ratings of everything on broadcast TV. Local baseball TV ratings are still pretty good.

Doctor T said...

I've had enough. I'm not spending another penny on the Yankees until Hal Steinbrenner and Randy Levine are gone.

I'm done with both of them. Levine belongs in prison for using his position as NYC Deputy Mayor to give a sweetheart deal to Yankee's stadium renovation (on the taxpayer's dime) and then taking his bribe in the form of a job with the Yankees. His attitude toward fans is completely contemptuous and hostile.

Hal is just another useless, trust fund brat with no qualifications, except his daddy's money and a nasty 'mill town boss' mentality that has no place in NYC. Or anywhere.

And both of them love a President who denied life-saving medical supplies to NYC in the pandemic and who tried to overthrow the government.

Sorry, I like to keep baseball and politics separate too. But I'm not spending a penny on this team until they are gone.

Doug K. said...


It really depends on where you draw the "in trouble" line. There was a time when baseball was the only game in town. It isn't any longer just as NBC, ABC and CBS are not the only thing on.

Attendance is down. Interest is down. I read an article the other day on the declining participation of African Americans on the professional level. So there's a whole generation that won't be watching. My kids don't watch.

Hell, yesterday I watched the Vikings play the Cowboys in a game I could give a crap about instead of the World Series! The other day I watched the Knicks.

Baseball is failing and falling and all of these deals with Draft Kings and Crypto are last ditch efforts to cash in before baseball becomes officially where it's heading. A solid and profitable enterprise whose heyday is over.

Will their still be baseball fans. Yes! Will a team ever draw 4M again? Probably not. Will a World Series game get more viewers than a football game. Doubtful.

But it will survive. So I say it's not "in trouble" as much as finding its own reduced level in a sea of alternatives.

TheWinWarblist said...

Baseball is in trouble. Yes, yes it is.

ranger_lp said...

There were not 3,000 cable and streaming channels in 1978. More content elsewhere, lower ratings...

Ironbow said...

Baseball is in DEEP trouble. The addiction to analytics is making the game practically unwatchable at times.

AboveAverage said...

What would Larry David say?

HoraceClarke66 said...

Thanks for the feedback, guys.

It is true that 1978 was sort of the sweet spot. No. 1 market in the country vs. No. 2, in a rematch of the exciting series the year before, with a team full of charismatic "villains" vs. a team of self-proclaimed goody two-shoes.

No, there were not as MANY cable channels or entertainment distractions as there are today. But there were some. And I get the feeling that many people today would rather watch mimes or marionette shows than tune in to MLB.

In any case, I think coming in at basically ONE-FIFTH of where they were is not good...

HoraceClarke66 said...

MLB keeps mistaking the bottom line for popular support.

The Yankees eliminate about 4,000 seats from Stadium III at its maximum capacity, they eliminate about 10,000 from Stadium II in its last incarnation, and they eliminate 36,000 seats from Stadium I at its all-time high. And don't get me started about the change of all free TV to nearly all pay TV


"We have had great success, so as a result we want to make it harder than ever for our countless customers to enjoy a product."

Well, after a while, they won't care...

HoraceClarke66 said...

This is a microcosm of the nonsense MLB has done in eliminating the old minor leagues.

"Hey, formerly we had a nationwide network of much-loved franchises that not only developed our talent but served as a cheap, beautiful advertisement for our product that drew countless fans to it.

"So, we decided to eliminate most of that because there were some minimal operating costs connected to it, and instead we'll just make our business the one that told any number of struggling towns that, in the end, they don't matter at all. Hey, what are you doing turning to the football game? Don't you know we're America's pastime???"

HoraceClarke66 said...

And sorry, should be, "enjoy OUR product."

EBD said...

HC66 --- Your aversion to statistical analysis is by now well known. But you might look at the ratings of the top rated TV entertainment shows in, say, 1961, vs. the ratings of today. They have plummeted every bit as much as baseball national ratings. The World Series still wins the night against all these entertainment shows. The NFL is an anomaly--it gets consistently higher ratings than most entertainment shows, but it has been on a bit of a slide in recent years as well, although, as previously noted, the Super Bowl still attracts the kind of audience that the World Series used to attract. But you have your hobby horse--the sky is falling on baseball because some very smart people have figured out that some of the favored strategies of your youth are losing propositions, and you're sticking with it come hell or high water.

13bit said...

StatBoy, with his own hobby horse obsession, his fixation on Duque and Hoss, his humorless, tired rants that lead nowhere, the personal attacks, the joyless commentary, is also less relevant with every passing day.

JM said...

Analytics are a blessing or a curse, depending on how well you use them. And right now, they are misused more than they are used wisely, and the game is too often boring as a result.

It's kind of like quantitative trading in the stock market. Firms can make zillions using algos and high-powered computers to grab a tick or two, given they have the money to make the approach work. But then you have fantastic collapses like Long-Term Capital Management, where human oversight and experience completely failed to halt a disastrous math-based strategy.

The Yankees aren't quite as bad as LTCM, but with a little more effort and time, they no doubt could be.

Carl J. Weitz said...

You can't compare ratings today versus even 5-7 years ago because tens of millions of cable subscribers have cut the cord and stream their programming now. Even local and regional sports channels. And these streamers ( myself, most of my family and friends included) do not get counted by the ratings companies.


" Since 2010, the pay TV penetration rate in the U.S. has dropped from 88 to 74 percent, and according to the latest data, over 46 million U.S. households will have cut their pay TV cord by 2024." Apr 12, 2021

Ironbow said...


Well said!

HoraceClarke66 said...

Fair point, Carl. But let's say then that the rating for the 2020 World Series really should be doubled because of the streamers. That seems highly doubtful, but let's say it's so.

That would put the rating of the Series at about one-third of the 1978 high, as opposed to about one-sixth. Still pretty dismal—and a steady, continual drop for decades now.

Carl J. Weitz said...

Horace...I have no idea what the exponent number would be for this year's WS ratings but no doubt it is related to the teams that played.