I mean, this is what many of you want, right? People tell me all the time, “The networks need to show teams other than the Yankees and Red Sox.” Well, thanks to the outcomes of the two American League Division Series, fans no longer will be bound and gagged and forced to watch the despicable Northeast monsters against their collective will.
So, will you be glued to your televisions? I mean, it’s put up or shut up time, right? The Orioles and Royals in the ALCS is a dream matchup for those who want fresh faces, fresh stories, fresh cities – and in the Royals’ case, a fresh (if retro) brand of baseball. But I’m betting TBS and baseball executives are nervous, fearing ratings will be low.
I’ve actually waited years to write this column, holding off because I did not want to come off as a shill for FOX. Now that the Orioles and Royals will be on TBS, I’m more comfortable making my case. Because honestly, I do not think you’re going to watch, at least not in the numbers that this matchup deserves.
And that will only perpetuate the problem – assuming, of course, that the emphasis on high-profile teams actually is a problem, which I’m not sure it is.
Don’t get me wrong — I empathize with the complaints by fans about the matchups the networks select during the regular season. The networks do shove certain large-market teams down their throats. But here is the truth that many fans refuse to acknowledge: Those teams draw the highest audiences. That’s why the networks feature them most.
It’s business, folks. FOX, Turner and ESPN are paying a combined $12.4 billion over eight years for the rights to national baseball broadcasts from 2014 to ’21 (the deals also include digital rights and radio rights for ESPN). The new contracts break down to $700 million a year for ESPN, $525 million a year for FOX and $325 million a year for Turner.
A lot of money, no?
The best way to recoup that money – if it is even possible – is to appeal to the widest audience. Some would argue that baseball could better promote the sport by accepting lower rights fees and requiring the networks to show a wider variety of teams. But baseball evidently is quite comfortable with the way it does business, and with its revenues in the $9 billion range, who’s to argue?
The truth is, ratings for national broadcasts are an uphill battle, anyway. Baseball audiences are local audiences, and local ratings, for the most part, are soaring. NFL audiences, in some ways, are no different. But gambling (and violence) help drive broader interest in the league, and the Super Bowl is a one-day event as opposed to a best-of-seven series, perfect for a society with an increasingly short attention span.
Which brings me back to Orioles-Royals, a matchup that is intriguing on so many levels:
*The Royals have not been to the World Series since 1985, the Orioles since 1983.
*The Royals opened the season with the game’s 19th-highest payroll, the Orioles the 15th-highest.
*The Royals play in the third-smallest TV market in baseball according to Nielsen, the Orioles the fourth smallest (only Milwaukee and Cincinnati are smaller).
By any definition, these teams are underdogs – and heaven knows, they’re fun to watch. The Royals’ outfielders are baseball’s answer to the Flying Wallendas. The Orioles’ manager, Buck Showalter, is a savant who manipulates his rotation to maximum advantage, defies conventional bullpen usage and seems to relish using plucky replacements for injured or suspended stars.
The teams possess certain similarities – in particular, the respective strengths of their defenses and bullpens. But they also are defined by their differences. Royals manager Ned Yost draws as much ridicule from fans and media as Showalter draws respect. The Orioles hit the most home runs in the majors during the regular season, the Royals the fewest (though Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have two each in the postseason).
Trust me, this series will be good television, Camden Yards a sea of orange, Kauffman Stadium a sea of blue, two long-suffering fan bases erupting with joy, celebrating their teams’ respective ascents into the baseball elite.