Would Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series Matchup Stop TV Ratings Nightmare?

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 7, 2013

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 25:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia #39 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a two-run home run driving in Mike Napoli #12 (not in photo) in the sixth inning during their MLB game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on August 25, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. The Red Sox defeated the Dodgers 8-1.  (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Maybe you want to see the Pittsburgh Pirates in the World Series. Or the Detroit Tigers. Or the Atlanta Braves. Whoever. It's all about allegiances for some. For others, it's about wanting to see good baseball.

But I think I might know which potential World Series matchup TV executives and Major League Baseball suits are rooting for: Boston Red Sox vs. Los Angeles Dodgers.

That, after all, is a matchup that just might be able to stop the slide.

The World Series just isn't being watched by as many people these days. That's what the slide is, and it looks like this if we were to take some average viewership numbers from Baseball-Almanac.com and make them into a fancy bar graph:

Source: Baseball-Almanac.com.
Source: Baseball-Almanac.com.

We'll get to why the 1978 and 1981 World Series are highlighted in good time—though some of you probably already know what those two series have in common. For now, let's just focus on that trendline. It's going downward. And in this context, that's bad.

There are those who are quick to point to this as a defining symptom of an apparently slow death that baseball is dying. Jonathan Mahler of The New York Times wrote such a column in late September, noting that the last eight years have coughed up the seven lowest-rated World Series ever.

"What happened — is happening — to our national pastime?" groaned Mahler.

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Ah, yes. Sometimes it just brings me to tears...

...To know that baseball is alive, well and kicking some serious butt, thank you very much.

That's another thing that's been often noted in recent years, usually every time a nitwit surfaces to proclaim that baseball is a dying sport. Tyler Kepner of the Times did the honors in response to Mahler's take on the subject, and one of his main points was that what's going on in the TV world is one of the least of Major League Baseball's worries:

In every way besides national postseason television ratings, the game is thriving, and the real effect of those low ratings is generally overstated. Last year, baseball reached an eight-year deal with Fox, ESPN and TBS for its national rights fees. The value of that contract was $12.4 billion, a 100 percent increase over the previous deal.

Beyond the TV deals, MLB has its own thing going on with MLB Advanced Media that's pretty sweet. The MLB At-Bat app was downloaded 6.7 million times in 2012, according to Forbes This year, it passed six million downloads in May. That’s almost as many downloads as it had in all of 2012 in not even half the time.

Exactly how many people subscribe to MLB.TV these days is unclear, but it was indicated in 2011 that the number was somewhere around two million. In the two years since, the number of subscribers has presumably increased by a hefty margin.

By the way, attendance is just fine. Mark Newman of MLB.com reported last week that all 10 of Major League Baseball's most-attended seasons have occurred in the last decade.

So yeah, Major League Baseball has an audience. The recent poorly rated World Series haven't changed that. Another poorly rated World Series this year won't be the thing that does.

So why am I here talking about whether a Red Sox vs. Dodgers matchup in the World Series could reverse the slide as if it's something that matters?

Well, this is a lifelong baseball fan talking here, and this lifelong baseball fan is just plain tired of hearing about the sagging World Series ratings. A ratings spike would do the trick of shutting up all the nitwits who are making like the peasant in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and insisting that baseball is dying when it’s really not, so I suppose this is a topic that interests me for "Neener! Neener!" purposes.

Now then, let's get down to business: Why is Red Sox vs. Dodgers the matchup for the task at hand?

For starters, it's a matter of market sizes.

Logic suggests that a good place to start projecting a World Series' potential viewership is by taking a look at the market sizes of the home teams. A matchup between teams from two top-10 markets will presumably draw more viewers than, say, a matchup between teams from two not-top-10 markets.

According to Nielsen, the following are the 10 biggest markets in the country as of right now:

Noted: Highlighted markets are represented in the postseason.

No real surprises here. New York and Los Angeles are on top, Chicago is a distant third and so on.

Based on these figures, there's one notable example within the last eight years that shows how market size can make a difference with World Series viewership. The 2009 World Series between the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies featured teams from two of the four biggest TV markets in America, and is the highest rated of all the Fall Classics between 2005 and 2012.

Going off that notion, the best World Series the TV execs and MLB suits can hope for would appear to be the Dodgers versus the Oakland A's, as such a Fall Classic would feature teams from the second- and sixth-biggest TV markets.

...But yeah, not actually.

Speaking as a resident of the Bay Area, I can say with confidence that there are far more Giants fans in the area than there are A's fans. Even with some fans jumping ship and joining the A's bandwagon, I'd still say this is Giants territory and that there's no real debate about it.

There's no such conflict in the Los Angeles and Boston markets. Boston is a baseball town first and foremost with one team and only one team, and the Angels aren't much of threat to the Dodgers' dominance of the Los Angeles market. It's primarily Dodgers territory, no questions asked.

Beyond the local markets, there's the question of national appeal.

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 27:  A Boston fan holds up a sign during the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 27, 2013 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Determining how much national appeal a team has obviously isn't an easy thing to do, but average road attendance can give us at least a semblance of an idea.

And via ESPN.com, we find...

There's obviously more at work here than drawing power, but the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees at the top makes sense, as does the Red Sox being safely within the top 10. You're going to run into Dodgers, Giants, Yankees and Red Sox fans in significant numbers no matter what city they're playing in.

So far as this table is concerned, a Red Sox vs. Dodgers matchup would be the best World Series for TV execs and MLB suits from a national standpoint as well as a local market standpoint. Since these teams have fans all over the country, a World Series matchup between the two would surely interest a good percentage of fans outside the Los Angeles and Boston markets.

Besides which, there's also some history that suggests a matchup between a East Coast team and a major West Coast team can get normally unaffiliated viewers to tune in.

Without looking, can you name the last World Series that featured such a matchup?

...Give up?

It was the 1981 World Series, of course. In it, the Dodgers and Yankees squared off in a rematch of the 1978 World Series.

If you failed to see it the first time around, that's why the '78 and '81 World Series are highlighted in the bar graph at the beginning. Go back and take another look, and you'll notice that those two World Series account for two of the three highest-rated World Series of all time.

This is not to suggest that a Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series would send viewership skyrocketing back towards the dizzying heights of '78 and '81. That's asking for too much. But if unaffiliated viewers still have a shiny-object thing going on with big-market teams from the coasts, a Red Sox vs. Dodgers matchup could appeal to a section of viewers that the World Series has failed to interest in recent years.

And lastly, let's all realize that a Red Sox vs. Dodgers matchup in the World Series could certainly prove able to hold said long-since-untapped interest for the duration.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 12:  Yasiel Puig #66 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws his bat as he watches his RBI double  to break a 1-1 tie in the seventh inning against the San Francisco Giants at Dodger Stadium on September 12, 2013 in Los Angeles, Cali
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There's plenty of star power to go around between the Red Sox and Dodgers. The Red Sox have a couple of superstars in David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and the Dodgers have a couple of their own in Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. They also have the high-priced Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, with high-priced Andre Ethier possibly able to play every day by the time the World Series rolls around. High-priced Matt Kemp is injured, but his handsome-enough-for-Rihanna mug will be there for the cameras.

Both the Red Sox and Dodgers also have narratives working for them. The Red Sox went worst to first in 2013, and notably helped pick the city of Boston up following the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombings back in April. The Dodgers, meanwhile, have been rescued and reinvigorated by former NBA star Magic Johnson and his merry troupe of deep-pocketed business partners.

But every good drama needs some good action to appeal to everyone. In the case of the World Series, that means good baseball. The Red Sox and Dodgers could play some of that.

Put them in the World Series, and you'd get arguably MLB's best pitching staff (Dodgers) going up against unquestionably MLB's best offensive club (Red Sox). But since the Dodgers can also hit a little bit and the Red Sox can also pitch a little bit, it's hardly out of the question that a series between the two would need the full allotment of seven games.

That would make an already-attractive matchup even more attractive. After all, the last time a Game 7 was played in the World Series was in 2011, and it was the top-rated World Series game in seven years.

Go ahead and root for your team, my fellow baseball fans. Or, if your team is out of the running, go ahead and root for whichever World Series matchup you think will provide the best baseball.

But if you're tired of hearing about how nobody likes baseball anymore because of the slide, then you should be rooting for the Red Sox and Dodgers. Put the two of them in the World Series, and ratings could enjoy a veritable explosion.

And that, of course, would make things really awkward for those who want to believe baseball is a dying sport.

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