The MLB Storyline Problem

There’s a huge problem with the MLB. That problem is…right now. Right now, the NBA Finals are over, the draft is done. Now every sports radio host in the county is taking time off and leaving the B-Team to cover the abyss of the baseball season (at least until NFL Training camp heats up).

Abyss totally describes the sports season right now. Why?

Because when it becomes standard practice on aging/recovering/lazy players, MLB Teams have to lay down mid-season incentive contracts so they don’t shit the bed in June, July, and August. It says a lot when GMs have to put legal writing in place that players won’t do the same thing that viewers do when the slow season comes around.

As I’ve written before, baseball has a huge urgency problem, and it has to do with this long-drawn out 162 game season. It doesn’t have any urgency, and a lot of story-lines don’t have the weight in this social media atmosphere to carry on for long periods of time.

Let’s go over playoff numbers for a second.

In 2000, the World Series averaged a 12.4 (approx. 18 million viewers), and 5 years later, the ratings number was 11.1 (approx. 17 million viewers). That’s pretty substandard, given the progress the NBA and NFL have made during that time. It should also be noted that the 2004 series averaged a 15.8 (approx. 25 million viewers) during the Red Sox historic-but-unlikely run for a title, which just goes to show what a compelling story-line does to ratings and media presence.

Now, one can always argue that TV ratings are expected to decline since the rise of streaming and social media, but that’s a half-minded argument. TV is still considered the most efficient media-buy, and the NFL and NBA just averaged higher than ever Finals/Superbowl ratings for their respective 2015 seasons. Here’s how they made that happen:

-The NFL has scheduled all non-season events in a way that gives football relevancy throughout the year. When the season comes around, viewers are already primed with the pre-season narrative in hand, and the season is just long enough to keep that narrative interesting.

-The NBA has simply left its players alone, giving them free reign to market themselves. In turn, they will be capitalizing on the glitz and glam that millennials so desperately crave for years to come (they are now a large majority of the 18–34 age group). In case that wasn’t enough, there’s also a walking, breathing headline called LeBron James, who just grabbed more relevancy for the NBA off-season by opting out of his Cavs contract. Another week of speculation on First and Ten coming up.

But there’s also something that both the NBA and NFL have, that the MLB doesn’t: A healthy percentage of playoff games in the total season.

Playoff games can potentially only make up to 19%* of the total baseball season, as opposed to 40.7% in the NFL, and an astonishing 56%* of the NBA season.

The NBA and NFL have healthy ratios of regular season to playoff games. The urgency provides story-lines a chance to stay relevant and come to fruition.

In the MLB, with a 162 game season, that just can’t happen.

  • Given that every series goes to 5 or 7 games
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