The 2014 MLB season opened on Friday with a matchup of the big dollar Los Angeles Dodgers vs. the upstart Arizona Diamondbacks. A division matchup. A big market team vs. an upstart rival with a payroll roughly half of its opponent. It seems this should be a game for MLB to showcase. And it did….sort of. The game was played in Australia at 4am ET and 1am for the hometown fans of the teams playing. All I can say is Thank God my favorite team wasn’t playing in it.
A quick glance at Wikipedia shows a much bigger problem for MLB than trying to grow the game worldwide. People in the US have turned away. It was common place throughout the 80s and early 90s for the World Series to draw an average rating in the 20s. Last year, with two traditional markets, the average rating for the Boston/St. Louis matchup was 8.9. Contrast that to the NFL’s marque event where ratings have been steady for over 40 years, according to Nielsen.
I can’t imagine how frustrated fans of these teams must feel. Especially fans of the Dodgers. Many are already locked out of games due to a fight between cable distributors and SportsNet LA, excellently highlighted by the LA Times. Sure, some hardcore fans may have pulled the all-nighter. But many fans probably didn’t. For me, while I consider myself as hardcore as a mid-40 year-old fan can be, I probably would have DVRed it and watched later. Work and kids just add complexities to TV watching in the middle of the night. Know why sports rights fees are going through the roof? It’s because it is the one TV medium where live appointment viewing is required. MLB does not want to start discouraging that behavior.
So with 8 days to go before MLB Opening Day, I am ecstatic that I have the option to take off from work a little early, find a local watering hole with MLB Extra Innings, think of all the possibilities of the upcoming season, enjoy a beverage or two, and still have a good night’s sleep. Let’s Go Mets!