I saw an article in last week’s Sunday NY Times about how baseball is losing popularity, feels “irrelevant,” (at least to that writer,) and not a part of the national conversation anymore. The article mentioned that television ratings for the World Series (and all baseball games) have been steadily dropping, as opposed to football and basketball, and talked a little about why this might be. There’s the slow pace of play, of course. And, while expansion may have been great for adding new fans across the country, it begat a “regional” nature to the sport – there’re few teams with a national following. (Though I could say the same about all the professional sports. How many people across the country root for the Bengals or the Jets or the Thunder or the Nets? There’s a few marquee teams, and then everyone else with more of a local fan base. Which is generally the idea, I think.) Baseball has failed to “sell” its young stars to the public, and apparently wallows in the mire of nostalgia.
One big thing the author missed was the way baseball on TV has changed – constant commercial interruptions and advertising sponsorships for every moment of the game. I can’t stand the hucksterism. Every instant replay, every trip to the pitcher’s mound has its own corporate sponsor and scripted blather. The ball boy runs new balls out to the umpire, (I’m surprised that’s not sponsored yet, but perhaps it is): “The ball boy brings the umpire some new baseballs. These new baseballs are sponsored by Ford Motor Company – Have a ball! Drive the new Ford Cataclysm.” Seriously, who can stand to watch anything on television any more? Thank god we are reaching the end of the Television Age. Sad to say that the internet is going down the same bad road.
I noticed a huge difference earlier this year, when I watched the kinoscope of the 1960 World Series, recorded on film from the TV broadcast. Back then it was about 99% baseball and 1% advertising. It sped the game up and kept you in the game. You weren’t constantly jerked around to buy something. When I listen to games on the radio it’s a bit better, but the advertising / sponsorships are omnipresent there too. The World Bank scoreboard, or the BlackWater Injury Update. Please, give us a break. Must every broadcast moment have its own sponsor? (This paragraph was brought to you by Arco Coffee. We roast coffee the old-fashioned way, but using new-fangled gizmos. It’s tradition. And it’s technology. In one great smooth cup of java. Arco Coffee. Live richer longer lives with Arco.)
There are other factors, of course. Football and basketball have to deal with the same TV advertising issues, and it doesn’t seem to get in the way. No, that’s probably wrong, I’m sure it gets in the way, but these sports have overcome it through spectacle and action.
The implied theme of the article was that it was a bad thing that baseball is irrelevant to so many people now. Well, people’s tastes change over time, and with today’s flash and trash “popular culture,” I think in fact that it’s definitely a positive thing to be less popular these days. I’m sure the baseball owners feel differently about that, but If that’s what it takes to be popular, no thank you. Perhaps baseball is just more of a niche sport now, for those who grow weary of the gaudy, overblown money-grubbing techno-porn ego-spectacle that is professional sport today.