Thursday, July 12, 2007

Barry, the media and baseball fans – future All-Star Game sites and All-Star Ratings

The unofficial second half of the 2007 Major League Baseball season is set to begin tonight with six games. Tomorrow night those teams who enjoyed an extra day off following Tuesday night’s 2007 All-Star Game will begin regular season play again. Much of the attention in next few weeks will focus on Barry Bonds pursuit of Hank Aaron’s 755 career home run mark. At the same time there are several important business issues Major League Baseball needs to deal with in the near future – the Florida Marlins future at the top of that list. MLB is set to announce future All-Star Game sites in the coming months. And Bud Selig’s interest in the globalization of Major League Baseball appears to be moving forward on a number of key fronts.

Today in the first of a two part Insider we’ll look at how baseball fans feel about Barry Bonds as he approaches Hank Aaron’s career home run record, future All-Star Game sites and how to understand this year’s All-Star Game TV ratings. Friday’s Insider will offer an in-depth look at the Marlins and the globalization of the sport.

The New York Times released the results of a nationwide telephone poll was conducted among 1,125 adults from May 18 to 23. For purposes of analysis, blacks were over sampled in this poll, for a total of 192, who were then weighted back to their proper proportion in the poll, according to the Census. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points for all adults and plus or minus seven percentage points for blacks. The poll focused on a number of Barry Bonds related questions and issues.

The results of the poll – not that different from similar surveys done before the season started regarding Barry Bonds and his pursuit of arguably the most cherished record in sports – baseball’s all-time home run record. According to the Times report: A third of Americans want Bonds to break the career record for home runs. Almost as many want him to fail. The rest are undecided or indifferent.

But the poll found large differences in the views of black and white respondents. Fifty-seven percent of blacks are rooting for Bonds to break the record, while only 29 percent of whites want him to.

Bonds has denied taking steroids, but the allegations continue to follow him. Most baseball fans — those very or somewhat interested in the game — suspect the steroid charges are true, although few are ready to say they are definitely true. Over all, 18 percent said they believed the accusations were definitely true and 48 percent said they were probably true. Nineteen percent said the charges were probably or definitely untrue.

Almost half, 47 percent, of black fans said the charges are probably or definitely untrue. Forty-six percent of black fans suspect that they are accurate, as do 70 percent of white fans.

Those who responded to the poll say that Bonds’ race is not a reason for the charges of steroid use, but 62 percent of black fans said that race had played at least a minor factor in the allegations against Bonds.

It would be very interesting if a poll was conducted regarding the media’s coverage of Barry Bonds, not only Bond’s approaching sports immortality but in how they’ve covered Barry Bonds’ image. Barry Bonds has had an adversarial relationship with the media for more than 20 years. Barry doesn’t like the media, Barry doesn’t treat the media professionally and the media has responded in kind. It hasn’t been an issue of whose right or wrong for close to two decades when it comes to Barry Bonds.

Earlier this week a radio personality hosting a nationally syndicated radio show suggested in no uncertain terms Barry Bonds was elected to start in the All-Star Game because tech savvy Giants fans had created a computer program that had offered Giants fans “assistance” in getting Barry elected as a starter in Tuesday’s game. The only basis of fact the radio host used was “internet rumors” – put in simpler terms the host was making claims that on the surface may have had no basis whatsoever. Many of the All-Stars who appeared in Tuesday’s game, along with some of the games’ greats (2007 Baseball Hall of Fame inductees Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn) made it clear they believed Barry Bonds was a 2007 All-Star and deserved to be on the National League team.

It’s difficult to make sense of the media’s obsession with Barry Bonds – they’re unbending commitment to doing whatever they can do to criticize Barry Bonds. The fact that baseball fans and baseball players seem to respect Barry Bonds for what he is about to accomplish doesn’t seem to matter. And Bud Selig’s ineptness in dealing with his stance on Bonds establishing a new home run record has only further served to muddy the waters. Bud Selig’s actions in regard to Barry Bonds have helped serve the negative media frenzy surrounding Barry Bonds.

The 2008 All-Star Game will be held at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees like their New York neighbors the New York Mets will both move into new stadiums at the start of the 2009 season. MLB will celebrate Yankee Stadium’s last year with next year’s All-Star Game in the Bronx. Several media reports Wednesday suggested the Mets new Flushing ballpark will host an All-Star Game in the near future. The 2009 All-Star Game has been awarded to the St. Louis Cardinals – a very strong baseball market and an important marketing opportunity with Budweiser located in St. Louis

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that the 2010 All-Star Game is expected to be awarded to the Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim and the 2012 Game is likely headed to Kansas City. And the wild card – a USA Today report the 2011 or 2013 All-Star Game would be awarded to the New York Mets and their new Flushing stadium.

Holding All-Star Games in New York in 2008 and 2011 would be a very interesting marketing and business decision. As Frank Sinatra sings nightly when the Yankees are at home “if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere”, if any city can make it work, it’s New York, but the downside would be it might be 25 years before the Big Apple played host to an All-Star Game again. From a feeding frenzy to years without a New York, New York marketing opportunity – might not the best marketing decision, but it would be an almost once in a lifetime chance to galvanize national marketing, sponsorship and sales opportunities if the All-Star Games between 2008 and 2011 would be played in New York, St. Louis, Los Angeles and finally back in New York—millions could be generated in revenues.

There have also been reports the Washington Nationals are interested in hosting an All-Star festival at their new ballpark and the Los Angeles Dodgers have expressed interest in Dodger Stadium hosting a game. One does appear certain – MLB at least in the short-term appears to be focusing on placing their All-Star Game in bigger markets where bigger dollars could be generated along with a higher profile.

One of the reasons there is so much interest in Major League Baseball franchises and cities interest in hosting All-Star Games is the ancillary events associated with an All-Star Game. Years ago All-Star festivities were limited to the All-Star Game. The 1980’s produced the home run contest and for a few years other skills related competitions and even an old timer’s game. The home run contest appears to have run its course, but the Fan Fest that became a part of All-Star festivities in the 1980’s has turned what was a one day event into a five day baseball festival.

Major League Baseball Wednesday announced two All-Star Week event attendance records were set in the host city of San Francisco. The 2007 DHL All-Star FanFest drew more than 125,000 people to the Moscone West Convention Center, the largest crowd in the show's 17-year history. The event, which ran from July 6-10, attracted 106,000 last year in Pittsburgh. In addition to San Francisco, the top five cities in All-Star FanFest attendance include Philadelphia (1996), Boston (1999), Seattle (2001), and Pittsburgh (2006).
The third annual "MLB All-Star Game Red Carpet Show presented by Chevrolet" attracted more than 50,000 people on Tuesday, July 10, topping last year's crowd of 40,000 in Pittsburgh. A record-setting number of fans lined the streets of San Francisco and enjoyed an up-close look at their favorite American and National League All-Stars as the players made their way to AT&T Park for the 78th Midsummer Classic.

This year, DHL All-Star FanFest featured appearances from Giants fan favorites including J.T. Snow, and current players like David Wright and Nick Swisher, as well as opportunities for fans to meet legends including Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn, Harmon Killebrew, Rollie Fingers, and Luis Aparicio. Throughout the event, fans of all ages enjoyed more than 40 interactive activities and historical exhibits such as life-size video batting and pitching cages, memorabilia from National Baseball Hall of Fame, and baseball trivia challenges.

The ratings for the All-Star Game on Fox were either fantastic or terrible – it’s all a matter of how one chooses to interrupt the numbers, is your ratings glass half full or half empty?

This is how MLB looked at the ratings for Tuesday night’s game: According to Live Plus Same Day fast national audience data from Nielsen Media Research, last night's broadcast of the 78th Major League Baseball All-Star Game was viewed by 31.4 million viewers, an increase over the 31.2 million who tuned in to watch last year's event, and the 29.5 million who watched in 2005. The year-to-year increase marks the second consecutive year of growth in total audience for the Midsummer Classic. Last night's telecast delivered an 8.4/15 household rating and share and an average audience of 12.5 million viewers. The 8.4 household rating and share makes the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game television's top-rated sports telecast of the summer, and matches the highest rating for any show on network television since the start of summer.
As has been the case since its television debut more than 50 years ago, the Major League Baseball All-Star Game ranks as by far the highest-rated All-Star event in sports. The HH rating averaged for the 2007 Major League Baseball All-Star Game exceeds that of the 2007 NFL Pro-Bowl by 83%, and surpasses that of the NBA All-Star Game by 100%.

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game led FOX to an easy win in primetime last night, topping NBC by 14% in HH rating, CBS by 72%, and ABC by 119%. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game also led FOX to the best primetime average for any broadcast network since the conclusion of American Idol on FOX in May.

Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby, won by Vladimir Guerrero of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, delivered a 5.1 HH rating and an average of 6.78 million viewers. The average audience of 6.78 million viewers ranks as the largest for any telecast on ESPN during 2007. Based on its average audience delivery of 6.78 million viewers, Monday night's State Farm Home Run Derby also ranks as the third most-watched sports telecast on any cable network this year.

The average audience of 6.78 million viewers for the State Farm Home Run Derby made ESPN the most-watched cable network in primetime on Monday night, and its average of 1,373,000 Men 18-34 and 2,493,000 Men 18-49 exceeded the average in primetime for each of the broadcast networks as well.

None of what baseball is saying is wrong, but what MLB failed to point out – the numbers also meant the game earned its second lowest ratings in 40 years – since 1967. Now even with that said, the All-Star Game dunked the 6.2 rating of last month's National Basketball Association Finals. It also was the top-rated All-Star Game in any of the major U.S. professional sports this year, 83 percent higher than the 4.6 rating of the National Football League's Pro Bowl.

So are the ratings good or bad news for Major League Baseball and their broadcast partners? Comparing television ratings of any event in 2007 to events held ten to 15 years ago isn’t a fair comparison. While there are more people watching television we live in a 500 channel universe – and with that much choice consumers are much more selective in their choices.

It makes much more sense to compare apples to apples (how the MLB All-Star Game compared to other sports programming in the last year) than apples to oranges how All-Star Game ratings compare to other All-Star Games over the last 40 years. The television landscape has changed and any serious look at ratings has to include an understanding of how the television industry has changed in the last 40 years.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Bloomberg News

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