San Francisco Giants fans were the happiest people in America when their team bested the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, but only a small percentage of the country watched the action on TV. Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Life Changes–World Series Ratings At New Low


It is a safe assumption that the TV ratings for Hurricane Sandy trumped the ratings for the recently-completed World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers, at least among people that still have electricity.

Maybe it’s just because one event featured New York and New York was shut out of the other one, but that sounds too simple to me. The Nielsen people have announced that the 2012 Series, which ended Sunday night with a four-game sweep by the Giants, set a record for lowest television ratings with a 7.8. That broke the old record for lowest ratings set twice recently in 2008 and 2010 with an 8.4 rating.

The 2008 Series matched the Philadelphia Phillies and the Tampa Bay Rays and the 2010 Series featured the Giants and the Texas Rangers. Sorry, Giants, America just doesn’t care about you, apparently.

During the middle of one Series game I was watching I was also on the telephone with an old friend in Chicago who is only a casual baseball fan in that he is not in love with the sport the way I am, but is interested if the Chicago White Sox or Chicago Cubs do well. I told him I didn’t have a strong rooting preference between the Giants and Tigers. And he asked me how come I was watching then.

His question caught me off guard. Didn’t expect it at all, especially since he knows I am a huge baseball fan. Without thinking, I exclaimed, “Because it’s the World Series.” That was enough reason for me and it used to be enough reason for America to tune in. Once upon a time it didn’t matter who was in the World Series (though it was always better if your hometown team was involved), but it was one of those events that rolled around each year that riveted the nation’s interest collectively and slowed down the nation’s business. School attendance took a hit, too, at least in pennant-winning towns.

Everyone listened on the radio. When TV took over, same thing. Everyone watched on TV. It was presumed that you might skip work or skip school if someone in your family came up with World Series tickets with your Giants or your Tigers competing for the world title. An old friend of mine named Jack O’Toole, who passed away a handful of years ago, was a kid at the time of the 1934 Series between the Cardinals and Tigers. O’Toole, who later became a scout for the Montreal Expos and Florida Marlins, not only skipped school, but he somehow sneaked into the ballpark in Detroit to snare a bleacher seat for a game. During the game he turned around and there was his mother, sitting five rows back! And she didn’t care that he was there. Heck, she waved.

When I was a bit younger all World Series games were still played during the day. When school let out I rushed home to watch whatever was left of the afternoon game (I’m old, but don’t go back to radio days). Since the Red Sox never got into the Series back then there was no angst about trying to come up with a ticket to see it live. The point is that you wanted to see it, though, because it was the World Series.

Well, baseball remains hugely popular, with nine teams topping 3 million in attendance in 2012 and even the lowest-drawing team, Tampa Bay, attracting more than 1.5 million fans. (In decades past it was an achievement to draw 1 million). In many cities it is more difficult than ever to obtain regular-season-game tickets. But this now a country of 300 million people and lots of them love soccer, golf, or tennis more than baseball. The Super Bowl has replaced the World Series as the major national TV sport focal point. Part of that may be because the football game is a one-day event and easier for people with short attention spans than committing to up to seven games spread over a week-plus.

TV networks covet showing the World Series, but they also know that story lines and suspense aside that if teams from New York, Los Angeles, Boston or Chicago reach the Series ratings will be higher. In the old days it didn’t matter who was playing, the luster of the event–Because it’s the World Series– was enough for everyone to tune in. Now it’s not for the average fan.

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