Major League Baseball executives and other decision-making personnel will need to conduct an honest assessment of why the television ratings for this year’s World Series were the lowest in history.
The cause may have been the transition of baseball from a break from civic matters to a forum for political advocacy. The cause could be that the designated hitter in both major leagues this year eliminated an advantage Major League Baseball has over high school baseball. The expansion of the playoffs may have caused many fans whose teams were eliminated before the World Series to spend extra time watching those earlier-round games and make up for that additional attention by not watching the World Series, and perhaps the closure of restaurants and bars where many fans watch baseball contributed to the decline in viewership.
It is also possible that the elimination of Minor League Baseball for 2020 caused fans in those towns not to pay attention to the professional sport this year. If that is the case it should send a warning message to decision-makers in all professional sports.
I care about the Los Angeles Chargers who used to be the San Diego Chargers about as much as Los Angeles County residents care about Point Loma Nazarene University which was Pasadena Bible College before the school moved to San Diego. I now only watch the National Football League if I’m at a restaurant or bar and the game is on the television set there.
The National Football League no longer has a team in San Diego County, but the National Collegiate Athletic Association has two football teams in San Diego and the California Interscholastic Federation has dozens of football teams in San Diego County so I follow college football including teams other than San Diego State or the University of San Diego and I follow high school football including the teams which aren’t in the area where I grew up, live, or work. The National Basketball Association also no longer has a team in San Diego County, so I don’t follow pro basketball but I follow the college game including out-of-town teams and I follow high school hoops.
The California Horse Racing Board assigns dates to the Southern California tracks so Santa Anita and Los Alamitos aren’t competition with Del Mar or replacements for Del Mar but rather part of the circuit. The races at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos are essentially road games for the local horses and trainers, so I follow those tracks. I also follow major races in other circuits.
Pro rodeo is essentially a tour so not all rodeos will be in Lakeside, Poway, Ramona, or Valley Center. That’s the structure of pro rodeo, not a snub of San Diego County, so I follow the out-of-town rodeos.
The one out-of-town closest team at the top level San Diego County residents do follow is the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks, and that is because the Ducks have an American Hockey League affiliate in San Diego. Not only does that reduce travel expenses for the Ducks, but it also means that San Diego fans will follow the parent club – and the parent league – of the current Gulls. That for the Ducks and the NHL is an improvement over when the Western Hockey League and West Coast Hockey League versions of the Gulls were independent or when San Diego had no minor league hockey team.
What applies to minor league hockey also applies to Minor League Baseball. Fans in minor league towns often follow the parent club of that farm team. Since Minor League Baseball was cancelled for 2020 nobody was following any minor league teams and the residents of those towns likely wrote off professional baseball entirely. The professional baseball season for them did not exist, and that carried over to television viewing during the post-season.
The two most recent National Football League commissioners were previously attorneys. Pete Rozelle had been the University of San Francisco sports information director when pro football was brought to San Francisco. He saw how pro football could increase its relevance compared to college football or pro baseball when the sport was brought to additional towns, and his tenure as NFL commissioner reflected that quest. He coexisted with the American Football League before becoming instrumental in the merger of the two leagues and outlasted the World Football League and the United States Football League, and by the time he retired the NFL had unprecedented stature.
The current Major League Baseball administration is seeking to contract the minor leagues. Some towns will lose their affiliated minor league teams. Independent leagues may fill the void, or the towns may be left without professional baseball completely. Without a tie to the major leagues, interest in Major League Baseball will decline in those towns.
The absence of Minor League Baseball this year may or may not be the primary factor for the decline in World Series television ratings, but Major League Baseball executives must contemplate the possibility of losing towns to other sports if minor league teams are eliminated. All pro sports decision-makers must decide whether blackmailing municipalities into building new facilities carries the risk of losing those areas to other sports if the team relocates. The fans have sent a message by not watching the World Series, and sports administrators who are contemplating abandoning towns should assess the potential consequences to their sport.