Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why Does Bud $elig want to ruin baseball?

I can’t blame Bud Selig for the rain. It’s a risk that’s run whenever you hold a sporting event outdoors. Frankly, I’m amazed it isn’t a factor in more showcase events than it is. But, while the rain isn’t his fault, the way this World Series has been handled around it certainly is.

First off, I will say that he made the right call in ruling that the World Series can’t end on a rainout. Can you imagine a rain delay with Philly up 2-1 in the seventh? When do you decide to actually call it? Does Tampa get a vote on whether or not the game could continue? Would that mean that the commissioner of baseball would basically award the championship? Not a good idea. Would you wait out an hour delay? Two hours? After they finally decide to call the game, does Philly rush out of the clubhouse and pig pile on the mound? A World Series deciding game absolutely has to go the full nine innings.

My main problem with the rain-destroyed game 5 is that it was still played at night. Let’s say it’s mid August and the Red Sox are scheduled to play a Saturday night game against the Twins. The forecast calls for rain to start about 7, and just pour for the next two days without letting up. Chances are very good that the Sox move that game up. Play it at 2 so they can fit the game in. Especially if it was the Twins last trip into town for the season. Why couldn’t the same logic be used here? When they looked at the forecast, why wasn’t the decision made to move the game up earlier in the day? An afternoon game would have been high and dry. Even a seven o’clock start probably would have let them get the whole nine innings in. That even would have let them get most of the game into the coveted prime time viewing session.

And, that’s really most of the problem here. The Fox network needs their ratings. I can’t really blame them. They paid a lot of money to MLB in order to carry the games on their network. They need to have the advertising money come in to pay for that fee. The only way they can do that is to get the advertisers the ratings they need. If they can get the advertisers their ratings, they can afford to bid even higher for the next contract. It’s a little bit of an endless loop. But, there is one way to end it. Just start with lower expectations.

Let’s say Fox makes an offer to MLB and says this is what it can bid if it gets these ratings. In order for that to happen, they need complete control over the start times so they can fit the games into the best ratings slots. What if MLB just said, “Nah.” How about instead, you give us half of your bid, and Game 1 will start Friday at 7:00, Game 2 Saturday at 3:00, Game 3 Monday at 8:00, Game 4 Tuesday at 7:00 and so on. If Fox doesn’t like it, there are several other networks that would. Fox would make out the same. They’d get less money for ads, but they had to pay MLB less so it’s a wash. MLB might not get as much money, but it would retain control of its signature event. Maybe the ratings wouldn’t be as high as they might have been right away. But, imagine if games were shown at the times that made the most sense for baseball fans, instead of the times when random people happen to be watching TV. If the World Series were on slightly out of Prime Time, would fewer people watch it? Would the increase of diehard kid viewers be worth the loss of indifferent adults? If you treat a World Series game like must-see TV, it will be. If you treat it like something you have to trick people into watching, it will be that instead.

Let’s pretend that baseball fans matter for once.

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