That groan you heard emanating from the Atlanta offices of TBS, Major League Baseball's new postseason broadcast partner, was another round of disappointing ratings for the National League playoffs. Despite relatively high viewership for playoff series involving the Red Sox and the Yankees, ratings for the National League Championship Series involving the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks were lower than ESPN's Home Run Derby (4.3 percent) and ABC's Little League World Series final (3.3 percent). Evidence that on the eve of the World Series a decline in baseball's TV viewership that started in the mid-90s is still very much in effect.
Does this mean we need more 12-year-old sluggers clearing the fences in Williamsport? Not quite. Overall ratings for the first round of the playoffs are up 16 percent over last year--much of this attributed to the fact that TBS is carried in many more homes than FOX.
But it does point to the fact that baseball needs more than a semi-funny comedian like Dane Cook doing playoff baseball promos. It needs to connect, at least when the Red Sox and Yankees aren't involved, with viewers on a human level.
Stories about pitch counts and parents losing their jobs while supporting their kid's run in Williamsport helped the Little League World Series resonate with a large audience--or at least a larger audience than the NLCS.
Perhaps it's time for networks to get creative and rethink their broadcast approach. Have sideline reporters do more than just talk about stats: interview the families of players to get their perspective, find out what it's like to sit next to a group of fans booing your husband, give the players a video camera during batting practice and see what they're like when interviewing each other. It's time for Major League Baseball to stop waiting for that metaphorical three-run home run and create interest when there isn't any for the casual fan.
Tell us what you think in the comments below. Is interest in the national pastime eroding? Or is this just a blip on the screen in an otherwise healthy sport?