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To: Bud Selig From: Tom Verducci Subject: World Series
MORE PEOPLE watched the NBA Finals, according to Nielsen ratings, than the World Series, the first time that had happened since a popular fellow named Michael Jordan was winning the last of his championships in 1998. More people—29% more—watched a football game between Penn State and Ohio State than the rain-delayed Game 3, which was the least-watched World Series game on record. Overall World Series viewership dropped 17% from the previous worst-rated Series (2006, St. Louis versus Detroit), 21% from last year (Boston versus Colorado) and 47% from the high-water mark of Fox Series telecasts since 2000 (2004, Boston versus St. Louis). The World Series audience has been cut by more than half since the expanded playoff format began in 1995.
Is baseball in trouble? Not even close. On the contrary, as you reminded me in our phone conversation two days after the Series ended, the sport never has generated more money or offered better competition. It brings in as much dough as the NFL. The Phillies and the Rays made it eight franchises, the maximum, to play in the past four World Series. Half the franchises in baseball have won a pennant in just the past 10 years.
"Every economic barometer of this sport is unbelievable," you told me. "Local TV ratings, property sales, regional ratings, TV sponsorship, next year we start our own network.... We have six-and-a-half-billion dollars in revenue and average 32,539 fans a game."
The vexing problem is that the sport's crown jewel, the World Series (and, by extension, its run-up of six Division and League Championship Series), suffers from a diminution that runs counter to virtually all of baseball's other indicators. "That's true," you said. "We need to do better. It's hard to understand why there isn't more interest. I am concerned about it, and I will spend a significant part of this off-season looking at what to do about it. We will reexamine everything we can."
Some of the erosion can be written off to the fractured television market, although the NFL, NBA and NHL all added viewers to their jewel events this year, and Philadelphia and Tampa Bay represented the fourth- and 13th-largest TV markets in the country. Some of it can be written off to bad luck. For the first time ever, for instance, five straight World Series have not extended past five games, killing the usual buildup of interest. The weather was another factor: It was beautiful before and after the Phillies hosted Games 3, 4 and 5, but often atrocious during those three matchups.
The problem with the weather excuse is that baseball is partly to blame. It has increased its vulnerability to bad conditions because of games that start late and take longer to complete and because it continues to stretch the schedule deeper into the fall. The average postseason game took three hours, 26 minutes this year—19 minutes more than 10 years ago and 36 minutes more than 30 years ago. That additional length is almost all downtime that encourages viewers to hit the remote: pitching changes, extended commercial breaks, constant timeouts by batters and catchers, etc.
When you play deeper and deeper into the night and deeper and deeper into October, you increase the risk of weather conditions affecting play. Of the past 22 World Series games, four have been played with a roof. Of the other 18, 11 have been delayed by rain or started in temperatures of 49° or colder.
Beginning last year, baseball added four off days to the postseason schedule to accommodate Fox's request to start the World Series on a Wednesday. This year's Series was projected to end, given a full complement of games and no rain, on Oct. 30, the second-latest scheduled Game 7 ever. Next year, because of the World Baseball Classic in March, is even worse: Nov. 4. That's too late.