I watched the MLB All-Star Game Tuesday night from San Diego and was mostly bored. And I love baseball. I'm not a believer that television ratings are the sole reason to make wild changes to sporting events, but it's clear that baseball's midsummer classic is broken and in need of serious repair.
The numbers that were released Wednesday night were stunning. The game got a 5.4 national rating, its lowest ever and a precipitous drop from last year's 6.6 for the contest in Cincinnati. Fox said that the game drew a 10 share and 8.7 million viewers, the first time that figure has ever been below 10 million. Things were even worse locally.
All-Star Decline: The American League’s 4-2 victory over the National League Tuesday night had only a 2.2 rating on WUTV, the local Fox affiliate. That was less than half the 4.8 rating for the game a year earlier and an even bigger drop from the 5.7 in 2014. NBC’s “America’s Got Talent’ was the big Tuesday winner with an 11.3 rating on Channel 2.
(First my aside: Where have the baseball fans in Buffalo gone? America's Got Talent did five times the rating of the All-Star Game?)
Courtesy of Baseball-Almanac.com, here's a list of TV ratings for the All-Star Game since 1967 and the numbers are startling. Certainly, changes in society and television viewing habits as well as the proliferation of sports on TV are mainly responsible for the dropoff in numbers.
The game was once must-see TV, in an era when it might have been your only chance to see some players all season. As recently as 1988, the game's rating was still over 20. The rating slipped below 10 for the infamous 2002 tie game in Milwaukee and has sunk since, with only the 9.3 for the 2008 Yankee Stadium farewell somewhat respectable. Baseball has become a heavily regional TV sport, something we've seen even in the postseason; if your team is out, people stop watching. That's not the case in the NFL or NBA.
How in the world do you fix this thing? It's not an easy question. People rail about the game deciding homefield advantage for the World Series, but if it doesn't, players will take their one at-bat and be out the door in their limo and out of town. I've seen that. It's ridiculous. There is a more competitive feel because of the rule Bud Selig put in for 2003. Still, if the game is going to count for something, it needs to be played that way.
---No more of every team must be represented. I don't want some guy from the Rays pitching to some guy from the Braves and deciding home field in the World Series. If those teams, especially tankers like Atlanta and Philadelphia, don't have any all-stars in a given year, so be it. We need to see more great players, not made up "all-stars" to fill quotas.
---You want to drop home field, then make the game for money to be split among the winning team. Even rich athletes like money. That $1 million prize for the winning team in the 3-on-3 contests made a big difference in the NHL All-Star game in Nashville in January.
---If this is a showcase for your sport, you have to have career achievement players, at least one on each team. What if Mariano Rivera was pitching terribly in his final season and wasn't named to the game at Citi Field, when his trip to the mound became an iconic New York moment? Absurd. What if David Ortiz was struggling this year at 40 instead of thriving and wasn't in San Diego? How does Ichiro not end up in the game this year when he's closing in on 3,000 hits. Do we want to watch Ichiro or Marcell Ozuna?
A West Coast beat writer (forgot who or I'd link and credit) wondered the other day if we'll never see Albert Pujols in another All-Star Game now that he's 36 and in his fourth straight season of batting under .275. That's crazy.
---We need more offense in the game but this is a much tougher issue. There are more pitchers throwing 95 mph and higher than ever and they can really air it out when they know they're only going one inning. Only twice in the last 11 years has a team scored more than five runs. Seven times in that span, the combined run total has been seven or less. It's not enough. Do we need something dramatic like four strikes on a batter in this game?
---Utilize social media more. Twitter, Snapchat, whatever. Right during the game. Baseball should be more fun has been Bryce Harper's mantra for months and he's right. We simply don't see enough of the personalities of guys like Harper, Jose Altuve, Kris Bryant, etc. These are the new stars, the new faces of the sport. And they don't all play for the Yankees and Red Sox, even if that's what FOX would like.