Taylor's Twins Talk

Focusing on the Twins, with a few ramblings on other things that catch my attention

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Slate's Takedown of Baseball Analysis

I spent the night watching the returns in tonight's Canadian election (yes, I'm serious -- I'm probably more of a politics junkie than I am a baseball junkie), but I did see quite a bit of the Rays pummeling of the Red Sox to take a 3-1 lead (thank God -- who cares if baseball is about to get the exact opposite of the World Series they wanted; I can't handle another Red Sox title). I also noticed a takedown of baseball pre-game and analysis shows (think the 15-30 minute shows that air before playoff games on FOX and TBS for the first kind of show, and Baseball Tonight for the second kind) on Slate that I wanted to direct your attention to.

The basic premise of the Slate article is that football has a bunch of great analysts (Ron Jaworski and Chris Collinsworth are specifically called out) and shows designed to highlight "smart" analysis of the game, while baseball has nothing similar. Peter Gammons, Tim Kurkjian, Jayston Stark, and Buster Olney are all given some credit for not being idiots, but Jon Kruk and Joe Morgan get hit pretty hard, as does the basic method of operation for baseball analysis generally.

One other thought sparked by the article -- is the NFL really so much more popular than MLB, as we always hear (and often assume)? One of the key takeaway lines from the Slate piece is the following:
And with so many fans, football shows can afford to devote screen time to relatively esoteric subjects that will appeal to the die-hards. With baseball's playoff games routinely rated lower than regular-season football, producers have obviously decided to appeal to the dreaded "casual fan."
Now, I can't argue with ratings. That's pretty good empirical evidence. But does it really mean what the author suggests (i.e. that football has a vast majority of fans while baseball is toddling along)? I think the answer is probably no. For one thing, look at revenues -- according to this CNN Money article from last October, baseball revenues are running just a tad behind football revenues (both right around $6 billion a year). Of course, baseball is spread out over 6 months and 162 games per team, but why is that relevant? That's just the structure of the sport.

How about attendance? The NFL drew 17,345,205 fans to regular season games in 2007. Major League Baseball, on the other hand, drew more than 79.5 million fans. Again, with 10 times as many games, baseball of course has many, many more chances to sell seats (and football per-game attendance is obviously significantly higher). But if baseball is making nearly as much revenue, and is selling more tickets in total, is it really so obvious that there are fewer fans, or that the NFL has supplanted baseball in the hearts and minds of Americans?

For me, the nature of the two sports is sufficiently different that it's hard to measure this kind of thing. Football is a spectacle -- with just 16 games a year in the regular season, fans can never get enough -- as a result, they watch the playoffs no matter what happens with their favorite team. In baseball, while there are plenty of fans who watch no matter what, there are also a lot of folks who don't care unless the local team gets in to the playoffs. I think this accounts for the lower playoff ratings. Baseball demands more of its fans; it's more of a commitment.

Anyway, I've rambled on for long enough tonight. Hopefully it's somewhat coherent. Now, I'm back to reading about Canada, and pondering the US Election in 20 days. Here's hoping the Phillies close out the Dodgers tomorrow, and the Rays do the deed in Boston on Thursday night.



  • At Wed Oct 15, 12:15:00 PM , Anonymous Marty Andrade said...

    Baseball "analysis" or commentary on Television? Completely intolerable. It's why I defend Bert Blyleven so much, he's at least entertaining and he's not nearly as bad as everyone else in the business.

  • At Wed Oct 15, 07:59:00 PM , Blogger lookatthosetwins said...

    Yeah Bert really isn't as bad as some of the alternatives.

    I think the reason why baseball shows try to appeal to the casual fan is that its hard to be a casual fan of baseball. The game is slower and has more subtlties to it, while football is completely made for us americans with no attention spans.
    For someone like me, baseball is very exciting - watching the location/speed/movement on each pitch, the types of swing the batter takes, the routes an outfielder takes to the ball etc. For someone like... say... my girlfiend, she doesn't see any of those things and is bored if there isn't someone making stupid jokes and explaining the game in a dumbed down manner. (Bert and I both do these things for her). Most of us diehards watch if there were no announcers, and some have been known to use their mute button to make this happen, so making the game appealing to us is really pointless.

    Well that's always been my theory on the subject at least. Steriods are gone - so we now rely on Jon Kruk to keep the casual fans coming.

  • At Wed Oct 15, 08:09:00 PM , Blogger lookatthosetwins said...

    Oh and one more thing (apparantly I didn't feel my last comment was long enough). Football has more flayoff teams than baseball, so more fans are going to be interested in the games than in baseball. I really think this applies for the whole playoffs, even after their team gets knocked off. I know from my experience that I watched more of the ALCS and WS in '06 (after the twins were knocked out) than I did in '07. I actually am not sure if I watched one playoff game that year. This year, with the twins keeping me in it for 163 games, I'm back watching some of the games. But maybe thats just me.

    Ok one more thing and then I'm done. You mentioned how football fans keep watching because it only gets played once a week... think if baseball was only played once a week? I would be glued to the TV all sunday (or whatever day it was played) for the twins and whatever baseball was played after. Ok, thats it.


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