Popularity Contest: Why Baseball Fans Care About World Series TV Ratings

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Popularity Contest:  Why Baseball Fans Care About World Series TV Ratings
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

A Cardinals-Rangers matchup for the 2011 World Series elicited the following sarcastic statement more than once:

"I bet the networks are going to love this."

Throughout October, I heard this repeatedly from many baseball fans and members of the media who realized that series like the Diamondbacks-Brewers and Rangers-Rays weren't exactly causing people to rush to their DVRs. Baseball fans, casual and diehard alike, groaned as high-exposure East Coast goliaths dropped out one by one.  First the Red Sox, then the Yankees and then the Phillies.  Gasp.

“All of the interesting teams are gone!”

That's what we fans said as we were left with the Rangers and Cardinals, two teams who led SportsCenter only on slow news days when Roy Halladay wasn't pitching and Derek Jeter wasn't doing, well, anything. 

We had just witnessed one of the most compelling World Series of the last 20 years.  And yet many media members and fans throughout the series felt the need to tack on a qualifier: 

"Too bad nobody is watching." 

Why did fans care about TV ratings? Why did West Coast fans care that few in New York were watching the Series? Why did I, as a life-long San Francisco Giants fan, continually check the ratings numbers last October as the Giants fulfilled my lifelong sports fan dream? 

It is impossible to believe that the phenomenon of watching ratings arises out of some altruistic concern for the well-being of television networks. Surely we are not up at night worried that Rupert Murdoch is losing advertising revenue because the New England market would rather watch Parks and Recreation.

At heart, we baseball fans are as insecure as 14-year-olds and seek validation in the same way.  Low ratings for our beloved sport are the equivalent of the popular kid in ninth grade looking at our clothes and saying “nobody wears that anymore!”    

We take it personally.

It is why we complain when baseball stories are bypassed for another discussion of the Cowboys nickel package. It's why we decry East Coast bias when the highlight shows are filled with A-Rod, Brett Favre, and Kevin Garnett's favorite breakfast food. We desperately want the passion we pour into fan-hood to be corroborated by the rest of the sports fan community. And when it’s not, we contemplate the old adage:

“If a baseball series goes to seven games, and only 25 million people watch, did it really happen?” 

I admit to suffering from the same baseball fan insecurities. I was hurt when, a full 12 hours after the Cardinals improbable Game 6 comeback, I texted a friend in New York who casually follows sports, asking whether he had “seen the game.” His response: 

“No, what quarter is it?” 

Series like these do not come around often. The people at Nielsen Ratings do not judge what is good baseball. We should feel lucky to have just been a part of the action. 

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