Baseball’s last breath won’t come in 2020, but it’s drawing pretty close to the end. With owners and players spending weeks deciding on terms to play a shortened 2020 season, and just barely coming to a deal, things are looking pretty bad for America’s Pastime.
You can blame the owners for wanting more money or blame the players for wanting safer conditions and more money, but at the end of the day, isn’t it the commissioner’s responsibility to make sure baseball is played?
Since taking over in 2015, Rob Manfred has overseen one World Series with more than 20 million viewers. That was in 2016 when the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series in more than 100 years. Since then, ratings have dropped significantly, with the 2019 World Series averaging nearly 14 million viewers and an abysmal 8.1 rating. That’s the lowest rated World Series since 1968. For comparison, the 2004 World Series between Boston and St. Louis had nearly doubled the ratings from 2019, clocking in at 15.8.
To put it into perspective the last time the highest rated show in television had less than a 9.0 rating, ratings were based on households and not viewers.
It’s safe to say, Manfred isn’t creating new fans. Less eyeballs than ever have been on the diamond.
If broadcast ratings aren’t your thing, let’s take a look at attendance among all teams. The MLB peaked in 2007 with more than 79 million baseball fans going to ballparks across America. Attendance stayed steady around 72-73 million people going to MLB games. That is until 2018 when 69 million fans attended games, the first time attendance has been in the 60s since 1997.
That’s right, less people than ever in the past two decades are going to games. Knowing that, you’d think Yankee tickets could be a little cheaper. After all, 100,000 less people attended Yankee games in 2019 compared to 2018 and attendance for American League games have been dropping since 2016.
Diminishing interest in the MLB isn’t a new phenomenon. Only 10 percent responded with baseball when asked what their favorite sport to watch is in a Gallup poll from 2008. Nearly 1,000 people said they’re not fans of the MLB in a 2020 poll by Christina Gough. That’s 50 percent of people asked.
Numbers don’t lie, but they can be misinterpreted. The league’s revenue has risen every year since the turn of the millennium. So maybe, baseball isn’t dying and maybe it’s actually doing great! Except, things like the league going global and new television deals add tons of revenue without necessarily drawing more fans.
You can come up with new contracts with advertisers, but that doesn’t mean more eyes are going towards the product. All that’s doing is proving you have more than enough space to advertise. Is that really what we’re turning our nation’s favorite pastime into, a several-hours long commercial?
Unlike most people, I’m all about pointing fingers at who to blame. In this case, blame the commish. Manfred has proven that while he’s good for business, he’s clearly bad for the sport.
Declining ratings and attendance numbers aside, has Manfred improved baseball? Outside of the universal designated hitter, there aren’t many ways Manfred’s helped the game. There’s a hundred examples of the opposite, however. Let’s talk about how he called the Commissioner’s Trophy, one of the most celebrated prizes in sports, a piece of metal. Yeah, calling the top prize of the league you manage a hunk of metal is not a good look. And I’m not going to touch how poorly the Texans cheating scandal looks on his resume.
In order to improve something, you start at the top. For a company, that means removing a bad manager. For the government, that means removing a bad politician. For baseball, that means removing Rob Manfred.