Results tagged ‘ Rob Manfred ’

Ratings Are Back, Will They Stay

After a disappointing past few years with regards to TV ratings, are the numbers from the first month of the season a good sign for baseball?

Alex Gordon and the Kansas City Royals, after a World Series run last year, have been one of several teams to see dramatic TV rating boosts in 2015 (John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

It’s no secret that baseball’s been in a bit of a dry spell with regards to buzz and excitement in recent years. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote about how new commissioner Rob Manfred should try getting the youth back into baseball, and as it stands right now, more and more hype may be starting to come back to the game. It’s not perfect — yet — but it seems like Major League Baseball is starting to get the attention again. People like the pace of play rules, they like that games aren’t taking as long, and they like that small-market teams like the Astros and Twins have been playing extremely well as of late.

With excitement and hype comes the desire to watch these games, and with that desire means better TV ratings. You’d think that despite baseball slowly losing interest over the past few year that the big time networks — Fox and ESPN — would still have decent MLB ratings, right? Well…not really, as they’ve in fact been in a decline.

As Business Journalism pointed out in an article published last month, this decline isn’t something that just suddenly happened one day; rather, there’s been a slow — but steady — decrease in ratings since 2001, as the following pictures will demonstrate.

(Sports Business Journal)

I’ve pointed this out before, but part of that may be because we see the same teams — New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals — on it seemingly every single week, and part of it might also be that there’s more entertaining things on. But we were at a point last year where only one million viewers tuned into a Sunday Night game during the pennant race, featuring the Oakland Athletics and Los Angeles Dodgers.

But, this season has seen baseball ratings increase, and in a big way. First, let’s look at Opening Day. According to a press release put out last month, ESPN’s 2015 Major League Baseball season-opening viewership went up 48 percent from 2014, those stats coming via Nielsen. Through five games – MLB Opening Night (Cardinals-Cubs) and a MLB Opening Day quadruple-header (that included the return of Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez from suspension) – ESPN averaged 1,370,000 viewers compared to 926,000 in 2014. ESPN also went up 50 percent in U.S. household rating (0.9 versus 0.6) compared to last year.

That Opening Night game, the Cardinals-Cubs one that ended in a victory for the Redbirds, that had 3,354,000 viewers, which is way up (47 percent, in fact) from 2014’s 2,279,000 viewers for 2014’s Dodgers-Padres opening game. Granted, that game was going up against the season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead, a series that beat the NFL and Sunday Night Football five out of eight times this past season, so that’s understandable. That particular episode of The Walking Dead, titled ‘A’, did 15.67 million viewers, so ESPN shouldn’t take any offense.

But, back to baseball and those stats from the press release. Though the amount of views are definitely important, just look at the demographics and the improvements across the board there. We’re talking about 17 percent in the male 18-34 demographic (0.7 versus 0.6); 17 percent in males 18-49 (0.7 versus 0.6); 40 percent in M25-54 (0.7 versus 0.5); 67 percent in P18-34 (0.5 versus 0.3); 67 percent in P18-49 (0.5 versus 0.3); and 67 percent in P25-54 (0.5 versus 0.3). In short, younger people took time out of their Monday to not watch Netflix, but instead watch a baseball game.

Fox Sports also has done very well in the first month of baseball, as Awful Announcing reported earlier this week. After a very poor 2014 with regards to ratings, things look to be going in the upwards direction, with the average viewership for Major League Baseball on Fox rising by 26 percent over the first three Saturdays of the season, which was good for an average of 597,000 viewers per game.

If I’m Fox Sports, I’m also taking pride in the fact that a game between the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers did 817,000 viewers in an exclusive window. Now, that may sound weird that I’d be suggesting that it’s something to be proud of, but Fox Sports nearly did a million viewers in a game between two, non-major market teams. When you think of teams that would do 817,000 viewers on a Fox game, you’d think it’d be something like Yankees-Red Sox or Cardinals-Cubs, but Indians-Tigers.

Oh, and they happened to do more views than the game that followed it, Mets-Yankees that saw Matt Harvey pitch for the Metropolitans; that game did a still-good 647,000 viewers, which is still nearly 200,000 less than the Indians-Tigers game.

Oh, and it’s not just the big Fox Sports that’s doing well with regards to ratings. In fact, eight Fox Regional Sports Networks (think of Fox Sports Detroit, for example) rank either first or second in their local market in primetime ratings, those teams being the Indians, Tigers, Royals, Cardinals, Padres, Diamondbacks, Reds, and Rays. The Royals, most notably, are up a staggering 129% on Fox Sports Kansas City after making the World Series in 2014.

Now, are these ratings a fluke? Maybe, and let’s not forget that this was just for the first month of the season. But, this is progress, definite progress that I’m sure is exactly what Rob Manfred was hoping for when he took over as commissioner. For so long, Manfred has been talking about his desire to get people back into baseball, and if the ratings are anything to go off, then this is a great start.

Joe Lucia of Awful Announcing put it best: any positive signs are a good thing.

Do you think that these increased ratings are here to stay, or are they just a fluke? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Getting The Youth Back Into Baseball

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred entered office with the challenge of getting the youth back into baseball, but what are the best ways to do that?

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at San Francisco Giants

Written by Jake Elman

The sun has set on the Major League Baseball offseason, and despite snow and cold still plaguing a good majority of the country, the fever for baseball’s return is warming up. 2015 will be the first big league season since 1992 that the league has a new commissioner, and Rob Manfred has made his presence heard already, especially with the recent changes to pace of play.

But, that’s not all that baseball’s new head man wants to fix. In fact, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that he wants to get the youth back into America’s Game, but how exactly will he accomplish that? After evaluating what currently works fine and what needs a bit of improvement, not to mention desires that seem to be shared by many baseball fans, I think I’ve come up with some realistic additions that can help baseball improve on its popularity relating to our youth.

Keep in mind, these are based on realism, so as much as I’d like to see Rob Manfred implement certain things (more day games during the playoffs), I understand that some things are less likely to happen than others. So, without waiting any longer, let’s get into some things I think Rob Manfred can do to make the game of baseball a bit more interesting to the youth and casual fans.

1. More individuality/player recognition

I feel like in a time where everything one does is scrutinized under a massive microscope, a lot of players have shut themselves out and prevented (either purposely or indirectly) fans from getting to know them; that, believe it or not, is also hurting the recognition of these players from a fan’s point of view. If you handed someone who isn’t a hardcore baseball fan — or even a casual fan who really only roots for their team — a piece of paper that consisted of 30 player faces, each being arguably their team’s star player, and asked them to name all 30, I don’t know how many would even get half. There are the obvious ones like the C.C. Sabathias, the David Ortizs, the Andrew McCutchens, but what about guys like Buster Posey in San Francisco or Yadier Molina in St. Louis?

Part of that, admittedly, does have to do with the lack of major commercial deals that MLB players have with companies; there are local commercials, yes, but how many players can you name that are in national commercials that aren’t for sports? The young faces of the game have a major endorsement or two — Mike Trout has Subway, while Bryce Harper is with Under Armour — but what about Miguel Cabrera or Clayton Kershaw? Wouldn’t you think that a player like Adam Jones or Jon Lester, two stars in their own right, would have some kind of big time deal?

Now, I can’t pin all of that on MLB, but I’d like to see them try to ‘brand their company’ a bit more through their players. This is the era of social media, and innovations like the #FaceOfMLB definitely help, but I don’t know if it’s enough. I get that not every baseball fan is a hardcore one, but there has to be a way to help brand players in a way that can make them more, for lack of a better term, more recognizable. If Major League Baseball can figure this out, then I think it would do wonders in getting young fans back into baseball, because it then means that they know more and more players besides the ones on their team.

2. Less primetime focus on the big-name teams

Now, this one may sound the most unrealistic because it does away with so much focus on teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, etc; and for a company that is coming off a year in which they had a revenue of nine billion dollars, that means less money, but hear me out. As it stands right now, the first five Sunday Night Baseball games this year feature either the St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox, or the New York Yankees, and two of those first five games actually are Yankees-Red Sox. Last season, the first eight Sunday Night Baseball games featured either the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, or Los Angeles Dodgers, and it wasn’t until June 15th’s Angels-Braves game that we saw a game without one of the big four. Doesn’t that sound a little crazy?

Now, I get why those are the games that ESPN picks: they stand out the most, and those are the games that are going to draw the most fans in the ballpark or watching at home on ESPN, listening on ESPN radio, etc. The truth is, I’m going to be watching these games because I’m a fan of the game, but there are plenty of baseball fans who will see that it’s yet another big-market game and be turned off from it. This is also factoring that the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast and its 8:00 ET prompt starting time (barring delays due to weather or ceremonies) are what works best for the casual fan; a Saturday game at 7:00 on Fox or MLB Network might not be the game that a college student who is out is going to be watching.

In recent years, MLB Network has occasionally traveled to a Cleveland or an Atlanta to broadcast the game, and I’d be all for ESPN doing something along those lines too. Over the past few seasons, The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been much more diverse with their primetime games on Wednesdays and Fridays, and instead of just seeing Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, etc, we’re seeing a lot more of Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Toronto, Memphis, and other teams that don’t play in the major markets. I know that the Yankees-Red Sox and Dodgers-Giants games are what will bring in the ratings, but fans get tired of those games rather quickly; if ESPN were to start doing more Sunday Night Games — or even Monday games — from the non-big market places like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit, and Seattle, I think the fans would really like that and it’d show in the ratings. There’s only so many games between the same teams that people can watch, after all.

3. Make the All-Star Break longer and with more events

I actually talked about this in an August article on SportsMix that was titled Rob Manfred’s Agenda, and the ideas I suggested then remain the same here. The Home Run Derby is fun, and I don’t mind watching the Celebrity Game, but there needs to be more. These players are so talented, and I feel like only having a contest that specializes in home runs — as sexy as they may be — does the rest of the league disservice. It’d be like if the NBA only had a three point contest; what about the guys who can’t really shoot a three, but have amazing dunking skills?

If there were two events in mind that I’d like to see, the first would be a skills challenge similar to how the NBA does the Skills Challenge that mixes hitting, speed, and arm strength. The other wouldn’t necessarily be an event, but I’d like to see Major League Baseball have some more players from the past involved in some way shape or form. How would that happen? I don’t know, but it would be a good idea because it allows younger fans — or not-as-hardcore-fans — to learn about the game’s past.

As for making the All-Star Break longer, this may not be too much of an issue just yet. The league has extended the break by an additional day, and that may be more than enough.

3B. Fix the All-Star Game itself

Now, believe it or not, I don’t mind the current format of the MLB All-Star Game. Since the players have something to play for (home field advantage in the World Series), they play hard and the games, more often than not, are entertaining and turn out to be good watches. However, if the past four years have been anything to go off of on social media, I seem to be in the minority, and I know that there are a lot of young baseball fans who really don’t like the idea of the All-Star Game meaning so much.

If I was going to fix the All-Star Game, I’d consider doing away with the American League team vs. the National League team, ergo the home-field advantage in the World Series. We are eventually going to get to a point where a team with 85 or 86 wins, who makes a miracle run to the World Series a la the 2006 Cardinals, ends up with home-field advantage and comes away victorious against a team with, say, 103 victories. That may sound interesting to some people, but for the casual fan, what happened in an exhibition three to four months prior should mean nothing as to who has home field in the World Series.

Honestly, with how diverse Major League Baseball is, I’d love to see an All-Star Game consisting of a U.S. team vs. the World team, similar to how the NBA did it with their Rising Stars Game. There are so many international stars, and I think a lineup that featured Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Yadier Molina, and a pitching rotation that included Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jose Fernandez would be pretty fun to see. Not only would this help on the national aspect (meaning more $$$), but I think fans would definitely be interested in seeing the uniqueness of a World vs. US game. Would it lose its luster after a few years? Maybe, but it’s still an idea I’d want to see MLB implement.

Sure, there are countless other ways that the game of baseball can be improved, but these are the ones that stand out most to me in terms of a realistic fix. If you’d like to see other fixes I came up with last summer, check out the linked post earlier in the article. That has some on there that Manfred has already done, like pace of game, but there are also others that might seem a bit unrealistic.

How would you fix the game of baseball to appeal to the youth? Make sure to comment with your suggestions, or you can chime in on the conversation on social media by tweeting me at @JakeElman.