Fans finding new ways to enjoy “The Thrill of the Grass”


“Fans just aren’t that into these Red Sox.” bemoaned John Tomase in the Boston Herald.

“It’s not as if no one’s paying attention. And it’s not as if no one cares. But the passion we once considered par for the course now feels perfunctory…They’re likable, they’re in first place, they’re in the middle of a pennant race . . . and yet they feel like an afterthought.”

In the comments section Sox fans identified the underlying reasons for the lassitude, the ennui that Mr. Tomase frets about.

  • The Red Sox decline in attendance is just part of the MLB trend.

Fewer fans are watching MLB games at the ballparks and stadiums [1] (SEE chart below).

Equity stakes in regional sports networks are the new game-changer in MLB media rights. Here are the teams that are cashing in the most. Through their new deals, each of these teams will see a 50% or more increase in the value of their television media thanks to an ownership stake in their broadcast-rights holder.

The Red Sox are the Rights Holder of the New England Sports Network and collect a $60 million annual fee.

The Boston Red Sox parent, Fenway Sports Group, owns 80% of NESN, pioneered the dual revenue cable model in the mid-1980s. The team averaged a 7.9 rating on the network in 2011, third in MLB. [See other teams below [3]

Yes, Bud’s Boyz are raking in cable revenues, but they are sitting on a house of cards.

As Pete Kotz wrote in LA Weekly:

“An average of just 12 million people tune into the 2012 World Series —

"a collapse of nearly 80 percent"

from [Phillies’ Tug] McGraw’s heroics three decades earlier.

In head-to-head competition, a regular-season NFL game will lap the Series by 10 million viewers. Geek sitcom The Big Bang Theory will pummel it by 5 million.”

MLB™ attendance is down more than 6 percent this season. The average ticket price is up 5 percent over last season, according to the Team Marketing Report from AP-KN Poll: “MLB fans feel priced out at ballpark.”  []

“Regular-season games have declined equally. Fox’s Saturday audience has gone down an average of 800,000 since 2001. Sunday-night ESPN telecasts have shriveled by a million viewers in just the past six years.

In any other industry, such staggering drops would raise alarms of a rotting ship. One might presume that TV execs are screening Selig’s calls. But the exact opposite is happening.

ESPN, Fox and Turner recently struck deals that double their annual payments to MLB. The Los Angeles Dodgers soon will ink a 25-year pact for local rights that’s worth an estimated $7 billion to $8 billion.

If it all seems incongruent, born of the same economics that brought you bank bailouts and the housing crisis, that’s because it is. Baseball, you see, is expecting you to pick up the tab.”

“On Opening Day next year, the Dodgers’ local TV contract will pay for the team’s entire $200 million–plus roster — the highest in baseball — before they sell a single ticket, hot pretzel or warm Pepsi.”

Bud Selig’s corporate cronies are reaping huge profits from the new cable deals.  Last year, baseball announced new eight-year national television rights deals with Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and Los Angeles-based Fox Sports Media Group that run through 2021.

Under the new contract, TBS will pay an estimated $325 million annually, a huge increase from its current yearly $148.6 million rights fee. That’s a total of $2.6 billion for the contract.

Fox will up its average annual rights fee to $495 million, The New York Times reported, for a total of $3.9 billion over eight years. The current contract has the News Corp.-owned network paying $306 million.

Baseball inked an eight-year renewal with ESPN in August that more than doubled the old deal ($306 million) to $700 million. The contract, worth $5.6 billion, also runs through 2021.

All three deals begin in 2014.

The combined annual rights fees will increase to $1.5 billion annually from the current $711 million. Baseball will collect $12.1 billion over the life of the deals, up from the current $5.6 billion.

Teams now each get about $50 million in shared revenue from the broadcast rights deals, and that could increase next year to about $75 million.

You might think that this indicates that Bud’s Boyz are in big demand due to the increasing popularity of the game.  Nope.  They are the benefactors of the “package” marketing of cable systems; if they were to sell their game rights separately, MLB would get much less.

Baseball also benefits from the demographics that show that sports attract the “young man” cohort that is targeted by advertisers.  But that includes all sports; the NFL and college football are the major draws for this group of “guys with money and no kids yet.”

As Kotz notes:

“Baseball rides comfortably in the backseat of this strong-arm game. According to research firm NPD Group, the average cable or satellite bill will reach $200 by 2020. Half of that fee will go to sports. And everyone pays, because most providers are barred by contract from moving sports to a premium package.

That’s why Fox can double its payments to carry the World Series.

"Though only 10 percent of America will watch, the remaining 90 percent will cover the cost."

Yet consumers have clearly tired of picking up someone else’s check. During a single quarter in 2012, Comcast lost 117,000 subscribers. While such figures are cyclical, cable and satellite have lost customers nine years running.

What’s worse for baseball, the largest exodus involves young viewers, who increasingly turn to cheaper options such as Netflix and Hulu. They’re not just turning away from the game; they don’t even want access.

But neither television nor baseball seems to notice these darkening skies.

If the court rules against Viacom, cable and satellite may finally be able to offer packages to suit any price or taste. Baseball’s welfare payments from non-fans will corrode. And with an audience in decline, remaining subscribers will be forced to spend that much more to compensate. Suddenly, that $200 bill could look like a going-out-of-business sale.

"A dying game will be introduced to Economics 101. It won’t be a pleasant encounter.”"

  • In the “new normal” economy, the cost is even more prohibitive.

mattttttttttman  News flash. The ECONOMY SUCKS! It is worse now that it has been in years and folks are scared. Our country is becoming a part time working society and now we have this disaster called Obamacare looming (which is falling apart daily). Interest is not the problem, it is called prioritizing.

An Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll of fans released July, 2013 shows:

63 percent said the steep cost was the game’s top trouble — up from 45 percent in a survey right before opening day. [@ 4 months earlier.] [2]

  • Easier to watch it on TV, even record the game and decide to watch it or not.

highlandsfan  Attendance at games is one indicator of disinterest (or diminishing interest), TV viewership and radio listenership are others. So, too, would be sales of Sox hats, shirts, etc. I suspect they are all down, just as is the Sox rankings relative to other Boston teams.

The problem that the Sox and MLB and all of the major sports are facing is that it’s much more convenient to watch games on TV, especially with HD TV and surround sound, in the comfort of home rather than traveling to a game. What’s more, it’s even possible, with a DVR, to record the game and to wait to see whether the game is worth watching or not. A game is likely to be worth watching if the Sox are playing well, but it’s decidedly not watching if they are getting clobbered. You can easily check online to find out what the score is and whether it’s worth your time to actually watch.

NorthShoreBill  … for us it’s a combination of the expense, plus the time and hassle of getting to and from the ballpark. Are we any less fans because we watch the game on our TV at home?

  • Pace of the game is too slow.

posa  Suggestions: Baseball games last three and a half hours or more. Pitchers take forever to throw the ball; batters take forever to step into the box. It’s mind numbing. MLB doesn’t care; why should we?

NHman  It’s all about the time. Whether on tv, or making the trip to Boston, and paying for everything associated with being there live. It’s boring enough watching foul after foul, or the pitching changes in the middle of an inning, and MORE warmups. What was the guy doing in the bullpen? Why can’t he just come in and throw it? When you add to it all the new glove adjusting, nut adjusting, backing out, pitchers walking around the mound, rubbing the ball, staring in forever, etc… Each pitch is an event.

While we advocate more use of the “video review” process in Post-season games, when the work of an entire 162-game season can turn on a single umpire error, it will only serve to add time to games that fans already find tediously long.

  • Fans cannot connect with millionaires and cheaters.

thomasapitt  Could it also be that MLB needs something of a salary cap, as fans find it difficult to identify with/resent teams loaded with people making five to twenty million dollars a year who and who also may well not even be playing the night(s) when the fans show up (check to see if MLB has increasing games missed by “stars”/all players on the DL).

An Associated Press-Knowledge Networks poll of fans released July, 2013 shows:

72 percent of baseball fans said MLB is not doing enough to prevent the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

66 percent said, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds or Sammy Sosa should NOT be allowed into the Hall of Fame, if they are found to have taken steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.

18 percent cited soaring player salaries.

The Ryan Braun and A-Rod fiascos have only fueled the fans’ sense of disdain for the arrogant millionaires.

"And why was Mark “The Liar” McGwire allowed to return to MLB as a Batting coach?"

[SEE ALSO:–“YOU’RE DAVID ORTIZ” A-Rod’s Loyal “Public Defender  ]

"And, why isn’t Pete Rose [the player] in the Hall of Fame?"

[SEE ALSO:“A Rose by any other name…” Pete has earned Hall of Fame plaque ]

  • Minor league games are less expensive and family oriented.

Minor League Baseball™ experienced staggering increases in revenue among its 160 teams. MILB ™also set new attendance records for five consecutive years from 2004-08, including topping 43-million in 2008 for the first time since the organization was founded in 1901.The 41,279,382 regular season total represents an increase over 2011 and marks the eighth year in a row that the industry has topped 41 million fans.

[SEE ALSO: Snub Bud and Stub-Hub: go to a Minor league game ]

  • Organization courting corporate box types, “pink hats,” not blue collar fans.

posa  Suggestions: maybe an average $50+ ticket price for a cramped seat at Fenway is a deterrent to developing broad fan loyalty … Lucchino wanted upscale pink hat fans, not blue collar loyalists… where are the pinkos now?

Once Larry Lucchino was sent back to his office to work on pink bricks for concession stands and Ben Cherington was allowed to be a “real” GM and begin to create his signature legacy, “The Next Great Red Sox Team,” Ben pulled off the Great L.A. Heist and began to grow his minor league talent to form his All-Homegrown Red Sox team roster:

C  Blake Swihart [maybe Lavarnway, if he can hit.]

1b/DH Xander Bogaerts  [6′ 3″ 235 lbs]

2b Dustin Pedroia

SS Deven Marrero

3b Will Middlebrooks

LF Garin Cecchini

CF Jackie Bradley

RF Brad Brentz

DH/1b Travis Shaw

SP Allen Webster

SP Matt Barnes

SP Jon Lester

SP Clay Buchholz

SP Drake Britton

CL Rubby de la Rosa

RP Anthony Ranaudo, RP Brian Johnson, RP Miguel Celestino, RP Brandon Workman


Christian Vazquez [C]

Happily, the game of baseball,” which began in this country in the 1800’s, as a sport that was played in small towns attended by crowds of locals, is alive and well and fans in the 99% income cohort are taking the wife and kids and grand-kids to games “from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans” and “from California to [Coney] island; from the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters.”

Yes, fellow 99-percenter, ‘Minor leagues were made for you and me and we are attending games in 160 baseball parks in America, this erstwhile optimistic experiment in freedom, justice and democracy.

The trends bend toward a future where:

  • Fewer fans will be attending MLB games in the stadiums and ballparks.
  • More will spend their money attending Minor league games.
  • MLB fans will pay the cable fees and watch their teams at home on HD TV with surround sound and supermarket-priced beer. [Fenway serves the most expensive beer in MLB.] [see chart 4]
  • Baseball fans will continue to disdain the players who act like arrogant millionaires and cheaters.
  • And, they will continue to complain that games are too long.

Imagine 3014:

We will all be watching MLB baseball on our video screens, where the “sell-out audience” fans are holographic projections, the players are wearing nano-material uniforms, robots and computers replace umpires, and Bud Selig has, with false modesty, once again agreed to serve another 5-year interim term as Commissioner of World Major League Baseball, and is still refusing to allow Pete Rose into the Hall of Fame.


[1] Attendance changes  [June, 2012-2013]

Team (Gms.)

More fans per game:

Avg. diff.

Orioles (28)5,412Nationals (27)5,143Dodgers (31)4,381Blue Jays (30)3,886Reds (29)     1,990

Athletics (28)1,185

Athletics (28)1,185White Sox (24)1,078Angels (32)1,028

Braves (27)713
Padres (30)532

Braves (27)713Padres (30)532Giants (31)190Rockies (30)66Mets                        -29)

Less fans per game:

Tigers (27)-168Indians (30)-252D-backs (28)-633Mariners (27)-1,055Pirates (32)-1,067Cardinals (29)-1,160Royals (25)-1,228Rays (27)-1,303Yankees (31)-2,576Brewers (31)-3,842Rangers (26)-3,907Twins (27)-4,004Astros (31)-4,271Red Sox (30)-4,554Cubs (29)-5,116Phillies (30)-6,656Marlins (30)-10,262



[3] Los Angeles Dodgers

RSN: Prime Ticket
Average Rights Fee: $100 million
Team’s equity stake: 30%
Value of deal: $3.5 billion+1
First year/length of deal: 2014/20 years

Houston Astros

RSN: Comcast SportsNet Houston
Average Rights Fee: $80 million
Team’s equity stake: 45%
Value of deal: $3.2 billion
First year/length of deal: 2013/20 years

Texas Rangers

RSN: Fox Sports Southwest
Average Rights Fee: $80 million
Team’s equity stake: 10%
Value of deal: $3 billion
First year/length of deal: 2015/20 years

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

RSN: Fox Sports West
Average Rights Fee: $95 million
Team’s equity stake: 25%
Value of deal: $2.5 billion
First year/length of deal: 2013/17 years

San Diego Padres

RSN: Fox Sports San Diego
Average Rights Fee: $50 million
Team’s equity stake: 20%
Value of deal: $1.4 billion2
First year/length of deal: 2012/20 years

New York Yankees

Rights Holder: YES Network
Rights Fee: $90 million

The Bronx Bombers own a 34% stake in the YES Network which has the most subscribers of any RSN (12.2 million) and generated $224 million in operating income last year.

New York Mets

Rights Holder: SportsNet New York, WPIX
Rights Fee: $68 million

Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz put a portion of their financially strapped team on the market to raise much needed cash. But so valuable is the team’s 65% equity stake in SNY, they excluded that from the sale.