It’s Been 30 Years Since The Last Outdoor, Daytime World Series Game Was Played – Who’s to Blame? MLB, FOX & “TV Research People”
30 years ago on October 14, 1984 the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres played game 5 of the World Series at Tigers Stadium under what used to be normal circumstances – they played a day game.
Three years later in 1987 the Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals also played a day game in the World Series, but you would not have known it because the Twins played their home games indoors at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome.
Since then, every World Series game has been played at night.
Even though major league teams began playing night baseball as early as 1935 (the Cincinnati Reds were the first team to install lights) it took another 36 years to play a World Series game at night.
It all started innocuously enough in 1971 when game 4 in Pittsburgh matched the Orioles against the Pirates for a night game. During the 1970’s, slowly but surely, more and more World Series games were scheduled at night. Now all games are at night.
Why The World Series Should Be Played In The Daytime
Television networks are responsible for scheduling start times of World Series games. The networks receive that privilege when they pay MLB for the broadcast rights. It is their firm belief that night games will attract more viewers.
They are clearly mistaken.
Viewership for the World Series has declined steadily over the years. There is direct competition from the NFL. But this has a lot to do with the decline in baseball’s popularity and the countless alternate entertainment choices that have cropped up over the last 30 years.
The way I see it, the networks (FOX most recently, ABC, NBC and CBS in past years) that broadcast the World Series have contributed to decreased viewership by starting games so late that it is difficult for adults to stay up to watch them. For viewers in western or mountain time zones it is less of a problem, but in eastern and central time zones, with the World Series games typically lasting three plus hours, it becomes a challenge to stay awake. So if it is hard for adults to stay up and watch, what about children?
With few exceptions it is almost impossible to cultivate a next generation of baseball fans when the World Series, baseball’s premier event, is on the air close to midnight. If anything, the networks have alienated a generation and a half of potential baseball fans by putting the supposed crown jewel of baseball on at a time when most children are headed to bed by the third inning.
What are the main reasons no World Series afternoon games are played?
On weekends, the networks (FOX for the past 14 years) do not want to go head to head with NFL or college football.
You know what? It’s time to abandon that argument. People who want to watch football as their first choice are going to watch football. While some die-hard sports fans are torn between watching football and baseball, most are not. If they really want, they can DVR or TiVo one or the other. Few hardcore football fans are big baseball fans anyhow; let them go watch their football games.
But the main reason for no day World Series games is audience size. The TV networks and MLB all want the BIGGEST audience possible.
Here is how MLB and FOX views their potential audience.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig who is retiring after the 2014 season, said in 2009:
“Our goal is to schedule games so the largest number of people can watch, and FOX has gone to an enormous amount of effort to make this happen. It’s been a great joint effort between the two us.”
FOX Sports president Ed Goren said: “This is a very special relationship between FOX and the Commissioner and his staff. It’s the gold standard. We’ve worked very well together through the years, and this is just another example of why we’ve been able to accomplish so much.”
Selig also introduced a more dramatic, retro idea: weekend afternoon World Series games. The network ultimately deemed that impractical.
“It certainly was considered,” Goren said, “and the Commissioner has certainly expressed his interest in it. But it gets back to economics: What I do know, from our research people, is that if we played Saturday afternoon, viewership would be 30 percent lower. And there would be an economic impact to that.”
“It’s not going to happen in 2009, but we’ll certainly continue to talk about it,” Selig said. “But, as I said, our goal is to have the largest number of people watching, and the truth is the potential audience is 30 percent greater in primetime at night.
What a bunch of malarkey.
Let’s put aside the beauty of afternoon baseball and “that’s the way baseball was meant to be played” argument. The sheer novelty of playing at least one World Series game, if not all the weekend games, during the day would not detract from viewership, but would vastly increase the audience. The number of children watching (they don’t count to the FOX advertisers i.e. Budweiser; Chevrolet and Viagra) would jump dramatically.
The “research people” are what is wrong with baseball and our society in general. These pencil pushers have sanitized music, entertainment and sports to a level of banality that is sickening. As the late, great comedian Bill Hicks said about market researchers “Quit putting a goddamn dollar sign on every f***ing thing on this planet!”
No one with the power in any of the entertainment fields has the guts to go with their heart anymore. Everything is examined, focused grouped and test-marketed to death before being implemented. God help the executive who has not relied on a research group, because there are millions of dollars at stake.
Here is what MLB, FOX and the brilliant “research people” have missed: The biggest audience is not the best audience.
It is better to have 5 million people who are excited, engaged and dedicated to a food, religion, band, book, TV show or sport, rather than 25 million nonchalant fans that are here today, gone tomorrow. I know it is not the financially astute move as advertising rates drop as audiences decrease. However the advertisers would benefit from a truly engaged audience. If the sport’s popularity keeps declining, you can drop baseball from “hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet” as things that go together in the good old U.S.A., as the old ad jingle used to go.
Until someone at FOX makes a bold move of scheduling afternoon games, the final result will remain the same – dwindling World Series ratings with a handful of bleary-eyed east coast baseball fans still watching.