The meteoric rise of the internet and social media has lined up well with the recent, also meteoric rise of the Chicago Cubs. With the fun young players (who are actually good!) and many giffable moments, this team has been a joy to watch all season long. Take, for example:
Wow, Schwarber was… not mincing words after his first RBI single last night.
— Randall J. Sanders (@RandallJSanders) October 27, 2016
I actually wasn’t the only one to see this, as folks throughout the land realized that Kyle Schwarber wasn’t exactly being G-rated with his ribbing at the dugout. I think if you check the highlight package, you’ll find one with the camera directly facing Kyle and it’s even funnier in my opinion. And when I say I wasn’t the ONLY one to see this, I mean it very literally, as the ratings for the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians in the first two games have been stellar:
Wednesday’s second outing between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs, a much more exciting game thanks to Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta flirting with a no-hitter for much of the game, earned a preliminary 11.3 overnight rating among households.
The strong metered-market showing on Fox, more than a 20 percent improvement from the comparable game last year, continues the very favorable ratings performance for this year’s bid for the MLB championship. Tuesday night’s preliminary numbers, a 12.6 overnight rating among households, translated to the best World Series start since 2009 — 19.4 million viewers and a 5.6 rating among adults 18-49.
Naturally some folks have put a spin on these ratings, but given the fractured media landscape these days (with hundreds of options on cable, satellite, and streaming services), grabbing such huge numbers is nothing to dismiss. This also alleviates some of my concern about baseball’s waning appeal, as it is evident that people are still watching and very intently, too. The numbers within the 18-49 group are encouraging, although that’s such a huge range of ages that it would be nice to see how many were 18-34 and how many were 34-49, as there’s evidence that baseball’s fan base is skewing older.
There wouldn’t be a baseball game without some grousing over pace-of-play issues, though. Dave Cameron at Fangraphs has one such opinion, in which he lamented the over four hours of game time to complete a standard nine-inning game. On the other hand, Jesse Spector at the Sporting News suggested that the long game time was not an issue at all, because this is the type of baseball we as Cubs fans expected and demanded of great players. The concluding sentence is very poignant to me:
If there’s a change that MLB ought to make, it should be to start the games earlier on a regular basis, because if you don’t want them to end late — and it would be a mistake to make sweeping changes for what is really a cosmetic issue — that’s the easiest answer, not to mention one that would help address that other, more important problem for baseball: getting the game in front of young eyeballs, no matter what time it is.
The bolded words caught my eye, as the challenge with baseball (with the fan base skewing older as I stated above) is to attract more youthful fans to sustain the sport as an entertainment juggernaut. I think some things could be done to fix the down time within the sport, as we’ve seen with changes like the between-innings clock, the mound visit clock, and I believe the eventual adoption of a pitch clock (with no one on base). I doubt they have to do anything too drastic with between-inning pitching change limits or banning the shift, but tightening up the strike zone may help drive offense, which every fan loves.
I imagine it was much more difficult to stay focused with the game temperature being so cold, but overall it seemed like a very well-played game, at least on the Cubs side. The multiple pitching changes may have disrupted game flow and added more time, but it was really the process the Cubs have used all season that lengthened plate appearances and extended pitchers past their comfort zones. I don’t think that part of the game is necessarily bad. And given how many people watched, even if half of them were complaining about the length of game, it seems not to be that huge of a problem.
That isn’t to say that the game can’t be streamlined some, but let’s get back to the point of this blog, as the Cubs and Indians have generated some of the best World Series ratings in recent memory. This data suggests, along with the more recent attendance data at Cubs games, that a winning team brings more eyeballs and butts in seats. That part isn’t exactly rocket science, and it makes sense to build a sustainable winner (thanks Tom Ricketts and Theo Epstein!) to make EVEN MORE MONEY than just sitting on a historically important franchise as it collects interest like the previous ownership groups did. It continues to piss me off how terribly run the organization was before Ricketts overhauled the Cubs, but it’s better late than never.
With the Cubs now taking back home field in the World Series and poised to contend for years to come, Ricketts and crew are going to make a lot of dough. It pays to win.